Chad and Anna Nelson prepared to welcome their first child in spring 2010. Everything appeared normal until just 18 weeks into the pregnancy, when an anatomy scan uncovered a problem and the couple received unsettling news.
A maternal fetal specialist explained that the baby had a bladder outlet obstruction and a small amount of amniotic fluid. The Nelsons were offered three choices: terminate the pregnancy, do nothing and wait for premature labor or visit a specialist in Miami for possible treatment options.
“We basically had to make a decision on the spot,” Anna Nelson reflected. “I was overwhelmed and emotional and just broken, quite honestly.”
The Nelsons enlisted friends and family to pray with them. After a weekend of prayer, they decided to pursue treatment in Miami.
Stepping out in faith
“We just left on faith and prayer,” Nelson said. “We had no idea if the doctor would see us or if our insurance would cover any of the expenses.”
On their way, the couple learned the results from their genetic testing were normal and their baby would qualify for treatment.
They also learned they were expecting a little boy they named Caden.
But the news in Miami was still difficult.
Even at full term, Caden could face multiple complications including a condition called hypoplastic lungs — incomplete lung development — affecting his overall outcome.
Surgeons placed a shunt into Caden’s bladder in utero. Approximately 29 weeks into the pregnancy, the shunt clogged and the couple returned to Miami for a second procedure.
As Nelson was prepped for surgery, premature labor began. One week later, Caden was born, breathing on his own but weighing just over 3 pounds.
He seemed perfect, but underlying health conditions soon materialized. His digestive system wasn’t eliminating properly, so on Father’s Day, at just five days old, Caden underwent his first major surgery, revealing Megacystis Microcolon Intestinal Hypoperistalsis Syndrome (MMIHS) — a rare congenital condition causing decreased or absent intestinal movements.
MMIHS is considered “incompatible with life,” and surgeons suggested the Nelsons withdraw Caden’s nutrition. Once again, they were asked to consider ending his life.
“Chad and I left the hospital, prayed and cried,” Nelson said. “We strongly felt like we shouldn’t determine how many days Caden has. That’s God’s job.”
Caden began receiving nutrition intravenously, was transferred to a Birmingham newborn intensive care unit the next month and went home that September.
Defying the doctors
Doctors didn’t expect Caden to see his first birthday, but he did. In the coming months, he learned to sit up, crawl, walk and talk.
And through all the surgeries and the ups and downs, the Nelsons have relied on their faith in God.
“God has carried us through so much,” Nelson said. “If not for Him I don’t know where we would be.”
Caden has been in and out of hospitals since birth. His diagnosis was changed to Neuronal Intestinal Dysplasia Type B, plus a host of other conditions including neurogenic bladder, scoliosis, kyphosis, restrictive lung disease and Eagle-Barrett Syndrome.
At seven months old, Caden underwent spinal fusion surgery. In 2020, he had not one, but two major spinal surgeries — this time in New York City — during a global pandemic.
“We prayed that God would lead us down the right path and keep us all healthy, and once again, He provided,” Nelson said.
Away from home and unable to have visitors, the Nelsons prayed constantly.
“We have always talked to Caden about Jesus and letting his light shine, but during this time we really encouraged him to go to the Lord when he was scared,” Nelson recalled.
Church family ministers
The Nelsons have been members of Cropwell Baptist Church in Pell City, Alabama since 2019. Through the pandemic, the church has ministered to the family in ways that protected Caden from exposure to COVID-19. During their stay in New York, church members sent letters and kept in touch.
“We have prayed and continue to pray for Caden and his family,” said preschool director Amanda Jacobs. “It is amazing to see God at work in this family’s life.”
In 2021, the nonprofit Magic Moments gifted the Nelsons with a trip to Walt Disney World, SeaWorld and Universal Studios. Caden enjoyed it very much, especially the Christmas theme night at Give Kids the World Village.
No matter what Caden goes through, Nelson said he has a smile on his face, tries his hardest and has the sweetest spirit.
“Caden is a true joy to watch. You can see the joy in his eyes.”