WEST PITTSTON — In a biblical sense, the name Matthew is translated to “gift from God.” That’s one of the reasons why Renee and Rick Christman named their child Matthew.
The Christmans, of West Pittston, weren’t ready to have their first child in February 1994. Little Matthew was planned to be born that June. But things changed on Feb. 21 of that year.
Renee was admitted to Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center having already gone into labor. A flight to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville proceeded. The normal flight to Danville takes around 20 minutes, Renee said. However, the pilot was able to get Renee to the hospital in just 12 minutes. At 12:50 p.m., Matthew was born. He weighted 19 ounces and was just 11.5 inches long.
“We had nothing ready,” Renee said. “They couldn’t stop the contractions until finally they admitted me.”
When Matthew was 3 years old, he was featured in the Sunday Dispatch “Spotlight” on June 1, 1997. The feature called Matthew “A Little Miracle.”
Almost 20 years later, Matthew is just your typical working college student. That’s a far cry from having a 5 percent chance of living.
Six weeks after Matthew was born, his mother was able to hold him for the first time. Renee stayed at the House of Care in Danville for months while Matthew was in the hospital.
After spending three months in the hospital, two of which in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Matthew was sent home on June 4, 1994 — two weeks prior to the original due date.
Matthew remained on oxygen for nine months and on an apnea monitor for another 15 months.
During this time, Matthew’s clothes were mostly made up of premature Cabbage Patch clothes, which Renee still keeps today. The Christmans also have a photo of Matthew laying next to Renee’s wrist watch. Both the watch and Matthew were about the same size. The watch remains in the family’s possession.
Then-3-year-old Matthew was named the poster child for the 1997 Children’s Network Telethon, which supports pediatric services at Geisinger. He’s now 21 years old.
“I have gratitude to everyone that helped me out,” he said. “I’m surprised that I’m as healthy as I am without major health problems.”
In the article published in 1997, Dr. James Cook of Janet Weis Children’s Hospital said Matthew was one of the most premature babies the hospital has ever seen. Matthew was on a high frequency ventilator for 12 days and a regular ventilator for another 35 days. He spent more than three months in the hospital.
Today, Matthew is an honor student and dean’s list student at Luzerne Country Community College. There, he is studying culinary arts and hopes to work in a kitchen, possibly at a retirement home, down the road. He’s currently finishing up his first degree from LCCC and working on his second.
“I’m happy that I’m as good as I am and I’m able to do normal things today,” Matthew said.
The 2013 Wyoming Area graduate continues to deal with complications from his premature delivery. However, things could be a lot worse, the Christmans admitted.
Matthew struggles with vision in both of his eyes and is legally blind. He has partially torn retinas in both eyes and currently deals with Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP). He currently visits an eye doctor to make sure everything is in working order. Just two weeks ago, Matthew has surgery on his eyes.
With the help of a heavy prescription of contact lenses and glasses, he is still able to operate a vehicle to get him back and forth to school and work. He’s been working at Gerrity’s in West Pittston since he was 15 years old.
“He wanted to get that job to help out around the house,” Renee said. “Now, we cook together and enjoy being with each other.”
There are still reminders Matthew has because of his premature delivery. Because his skin was so transparent at the time of delivery, scars remain on Matthew’s skin.
“God bless him,” Renee said. “He’s truly a little miracle.”
The duo is currently heavily involved with rescuing animals. The two help transport animals from one point to the next. Recently, they helped rescue a horse. They currently have an 8-year-old Pitbull/Boxer mix named Bella.
When Matthew isn’t studying his culinary passion or working at Gerrity’s he enjoys reading — everything from cook books to fiction novels. When he looks back on everything he’s been through, he said he’s grateful for all of the doctors and nurses that helped save his life.
“Thank you,” he said.
Renee is certainly thankful that Matthew is able to live his life as normal as any other college student.
“I look at him and all I can say is, ‘Thank you God,’” she said. “I’m so glad that he can laugh, talk and walk — he’s in college. The word is a miracle.”
Reach Nick Wagner at 570-991-6406 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick