A Miracle In the military
Becoming new parents is often overwhelming and scary. When you add in living in a foreign country with an unexpected rare medical condition, overwhelming is suddenly an understatement. This was the case for middle school sweethearts Brittnee and Rick Vasil. After hearing their story, you will quickly realize they never let fear decide their fate.
Brittnee and Rick began their relationship at just twelve years old which continued throughout high school, only breaking for a brief period during college. During that time, Rick joined the military and soon after reconnected with Brittnee. Three days after Rick completed boot camp they married, and three days after that he was sent to Japan. Brittnee was able to visit during the three years he was stationed there until Rick was relocated to Rhode Island, where they were finally able to start their life together. After six months in Rhode Island, they were sent back to Japan together and soon after, decided it was time to start a family.
One year later, Brittnee was carrying their first child. Her pregnancy was fairly smooth until twenty-five weeks when she developed gestational diabetes. Brittnee did not agree with the care plan given by her Japanese doctor and decided to transfer her care to an American physician. Due to the transition in care, she and Rick would travel about six hours from their home in Sasebo, to the closest naval hospital in Yokosuka, Japan. An induction was scheduled at 38 weeks, due to the risks of gestational diabetes. During their tour of the birthing facility, they were shown the process of a baby being transported to another hospital NICU in the event of complications. Brittnee waved off the information since she felt they wouldn’t need it.
Brittnee delivered Tucker on April 6, 2016, at 11:39 pm. She did have some bleeding issues after delivery, but they were controlled with no major setbacks. The next day, baby Tucker was circumcised, the new parents were given care instructions by the doctor and the family was to be discharged the following day. Typically after circumcision, there should only be a small amount of blood, if any, in a baby’s diaper. The night of Tucker’s circumcision, Brittnee picked him up and discovered he had bled through his diaper, his clothes and into his bassinet. She immediately knew something was wrong and had a bad gut feeling. The doctor examined Tucker and decided a new dressing change was needed and possibly a stitch so they arranged for both. Within an hour, after just as much bleeding, it was determined labs were needed for further testing.
Later that day, the doctor informed Brittnee and Rick that Tucker’s PTT (bleeding time test) was abnormal and they were given five minutes to get up and be in the ambulance to transport Tucker to the NICU at a nearby hospital. No one was telling Brittnee or Rick what was wrong with their new baby and they were filled with panic and anxiety. It was a relief to discover the pediatric hematologist at the NICU spoke English, along with an intern who was also a translator. They were given a waiver to sign and Tucker received his first dose of Factor 8 to control the bleeding, which almost immediately stopped. They were informed that Tucker would be in the NICU all weekend to be monitored. Brittnee, not even 24 hours postpartum, was having to leave her baby, gather her things and was forced to stay away from her baby overnight. The hematologist determined that since Tucker was stable, there was no need for him to stay and expressed he could leave with Brittnee and Rick.
After Tucker was discharged, the Vasils went back to stay at a local hotel room to recover and stabilize, but Tucker started to look a little jaundice. Uneasy, Rick and Brittnee took him back for a checkup. The doctor did another heal stick, which bled through the bandage (He did not bleed again from his circumcision). He wanted to readmit Tucker into the NICU, but the hospital would not take him. The military pediatrician on base contacted their chain of command, who gave orders for Brittnee and Tucker to be immediately medivaced back to the United States in order to receive adequate care for Tucker’s new diagnosis of hemophilia. They would not allow Brittnee or Tucker to leave Tokyo even to get their things at the base. Rick packed up their house, not knowing if they would be able to return. Brittnee never would be able to return to her home in Japan.
Rick was told he may not be able to receive orders for a new command and station for four months. The military gave him 30 days to stay with Brittnee and Tucker after they arrived in the U.S. but he was then required to report back to his command in Japan and await new orders. Two weeks after returning from the states, Rick got a call from the detailer. “I need to know right now, do you want to be stationed in Pensacola, Florida or Washington DC,” he said. Rick chose Pensacola because he knew they had family in their home state of Florida. His new command was approved with a start date of two weeks! Rick was home for his first Father’s Day with new orders and a new command in his home state of Florida.
Hemophilia was a shock to this new family. Brittnee remembers their experience to be terrifying. They had all the fears and emotions of their first child being diagnosed with a rare bleeding disorder, but additionally the response of the medical community, both military physicians and foreign doctors at the hospital in Japan, made their situation feel more frightening than she felt it should have been. Brittnee hopes to be a resource to connect other diagnosed military families, so they might not have to sustain the same level of panic and fear as she and Rick did in a foreign country.
Brittnee has made it her personal mission to learn as much as she can to become the best advocate possible for Tucker. Rick has continued to advance in his career in the military and be there for Tucker, as they learn how to manage hemophilia together. Due to a change in providers in their area, they have to drive 6 hours to receive adequate treatment at a Hemophilia Treatment Center, but they are extremely thankful for the care they are given from their HTC. They will never forget the scary first days of discovery and facing the unknowns.
Rick said looking back over their journey that they were determined “nothing was going to stop us from moving forward. We were going to do everything it took to get him [Tucker] the best care and live as normal as we possibly could, and that's how we still live today”. Their family is a shining example of what it means to live life to the fullest, be determined to not allow hemophilia to stop them, to become educated and to pass on that education. Rick recalls that their success was attributed to the support he received from the military, to he and Brittnee advocating for themselves and to speaking up about their needs for Tucker. He encourages parents to be an advocate for themselves “because if you don’t, no one else will do it for you.”
Brittnee has started an outreach to help families in the military living with hemophilia through Hope for Hemophilia. She has made it her life mission to be readily available for families who are in the military and are affected by a bleeding disorder, in order to minimize the fear and anxiety for others they personally experienced. She says “even if we help only one family to not have to go through what we faced, it would be worth it”. They are a beautiful picture of what it means to give purpose to your pain and use what you’ve learned to help others.