Respiratory issues due to COVID-19 and RSV are a top concern for parents and pediatric doctors. For two-and-a-half-year-old Carter Parker, the side effects of those illnesses put his life in danger, making it incredibly difficult for him to breathe.
In January 2022, the Sulphur native had an emergency intubation to open up his airways and help him breathe easier. Soon after, he was brought to Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital, where his pediatric care team decided a tracheostomy was in order.
The procedure creates an opening in the windpipe, or trachea, from outside the neck with an exposed tube that helps oxygen reach the lungs more easily.
Lauren Buck, MD, pediatric otolaryngologist at Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Health, says that while children like Carter might naturally have narrowed airways, the combination of COVID-19 and RSV, as well as Rhinovirus and damage from the previous intubation, had exacerbated the strain on his young body.
But fortunately for Carter, Dr. Buck had a more permanent solution that would enable him to lead a normal life and enjoy activities like swimming.
“For kids with a trach, they always have to be with a caregiver,” Dr. Buck says. “They have to be monitored more closely because it is more dangerous to them if something were to happen to that trach or if it becomes dislodged. That’s the only way they are able to breathe.”
Dr. Buck performed a laryngotracheal reconstruction in October 2022 that used a piece of cartilage from Carter’s ribs to widen his windpipe. About six months after the procedure, Dr. Buck and her team were able to entirely remove the artificial trach tube to allow Carter to fully rely on his reconstructed windpipe and breathe normally.
Now, he’s recovering at home with his family, though he continues with speech therapy and other therapies to help him strengthen his breathing and swallowing.
His grandmother, Kim Parker says he is progressing well.
“He has physically definitely overcome all of that. We never thought it would happen,” she says. “He will be watched for several years to make sure his airway grows as he grows, but he’s a tough little boy.”
Kim says the relationship they made with the care team at Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital was important to improve Carter’s quality of life.
“We’re so blessed that we were transferred there, for sure,” Kim says. “We love them. They are like family now.”
Dr. Buck says Carter’s family played an important role in his care, first with the extensive training to help him function with the trach and then with his outpatient therapies now that he has a reconstructed windpipe.
His laryngotracheal reconstruction procedure is rare — Dr. Buck performs around one or two a year — and Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital is one of the only pediatric hospitals in the state that can provide such a complex surgery.
She says having a pediatric intensive care unit and operating room team that is well-versed in the procedure and similar treatments makes our Children’s Hospital a critical care center for many young patients with narrowed airways.
“It’s not an easy job for families, and Carter’s family is taking great care of him,” Dr. Buck says. “And Carter is the cutest. He’s always smiling and takes it like a champ no matter what we throw at him. Around the pediatric intensive care unit, everybody knows Carter Parker. He’s like a celebrity around here.”
Carter Parker is being honored as one of Our Lady of the Lake’s Geaux Heroes, which recognizes incredible stories of strength and resilience. He and his family are being recognized on the field of Tiger Stadium during the LSU football game on Nov. 18.