Hoping for a heart: Tallahassee family loses everything after daughter born with serious medical issues

Courtesy: Autumn Fox's GoFundMe Page
Courtesy: Autumn Fox's GoFundMe Page(WCTV)
Published: Mar. 8, 2019 at 10:04 PM EST
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By: Katie Kaplan | WCTV Eyewitness News

March 8, 2019

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- A Tallahassee family has lost nearly everything while hoping for a heart for their infant.

6-month-old Autumn Fox has been a fighter her entire life. The Tallahassee baby was born with several serious health issues and is now waiting at Shands Hospital on life support. Her family has lost their business, home and vehicle to be by her side.

"She's on, basically, full life support," Autumn's mother, Nicole Smith, told WCTV reporter Katie Kaplan. "The brain bleeds were completely different. The heart issue is completely different and the genetic issues are completely different. They don't all tie into each other."

Autumn was placed on an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine, which replaces the breathing function of the heart and lungs while she waits for a donor. On Thursday, she underwent a roughly 8-hour surgery to implant a Berlin heart pump, which will maintain blood flow until a transplant can be done.

"It could still be months still or it could be days," Smith said.

The past six months have been a struggle for the family, who said they did not have any indication that the baby would have complications when she was born.

"It's been pretty hard," said Autumn's mother, Nicole Smith. "I had to let my car go. I've had to let my daycare, my business that I had for five years, go."

With no work, she could not afford the home she and her husband had recently purchased, or the larger vehicle they had upgraded to in order to accommodate their soon-to-be four children. Soon after Autumn was born the family found themselves driving back and forth from Tallahassee, where the older children were, to Gainesville, where Autumn was, everyday. The gas and food costs quickly racked up charges on their credit cards.

The family decided to permanently uproot closer to the hospital They sold most of their belongings and moved into the Ronald McDonald house across from Shands.

It has been a hard transition for the entire family, Smith said.

"She actually said the other day, 'Mom, I just want to give Autumn my heart. I want her better,'" Smith said of her eldest child, 8 year-old Haley.

Five-year-old Mason is autistic and two-year-old Brayden must be in daycare because he cannot be in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit where Autumn currently lives. The situation has also been hard on grandma.

"My crying is in the shower," said Rebecca Fox, called "Mimi" by her grandchildren.

Fox said she tries to stay strong in front of the family so she does not upset them. She often drives from her home in Valdosta to help Smith out in Gainesville.

"She has gave up so much in the last six months," she said, while trying to hold back tears. "When you see your child has been doing so much good for themselves and then they lose their business and then they end up losing their home that they worked hard for and then to have to lose the car."

The family now shares one vehicle- an old truck that was already paid off. The days for Smith begin early in the morning and do not end until late.

"I get up about five," she said.

Smith drives her husband, who just found work in Gainesville, to and from his job. She does the same for the kids for school on the opposite side of town. In Between she goes to Shands to be by Autumn's side. She stays as late as she can and has recently been getting no more than four hours of sleep. During the night, she said she calls the hospital "3 or 4 times to check" on the baby.

"No One really gets that holding a baby without wires and tubes and all that stuff is something to be grateful for because everytime a monitor beeps you're looking to see what it is," she said. "I go home and sleep and I hear monitors all night long."

While she never really escapes it all, Smith dreams that some day soon little Autumn can.

Earlier this week, the family was able to move out of the RMH and into a nearby apartment, thanks to the help of donations from Aenon Baptist Church. Smith said they are grateful for the support from the community.

If you would like to help the family in their time of need, you can donate to their GoFundMe Page