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RSV in Montana: Family recounts time in ICU; hospitals brace for more cases

The Baxter family, RSV
Posted at 9:34 AM, Nov 30, 2022

BILLINGS - An early season surge of RSV is pushing hospitals around the country to max capacity—a trend that could be heading for Montana.

More than 200 new cases of the virus popped up in Montana last week, numbers doctors say they don't typically see until January.

Dr. Menard Barruga, a pediatric intensivist at St. Vincent Healthcare in Billings, says Montana's largest city is currently an island when it comes to RSV cases, with numbers significantly less than the region — including in the rest of the state.

"Here in Billings especially, we have not seen the barrage the rest of the country is seeing," Barruga said. "Oddly enough, most of the cases that we've had here in the pediatric ICU have come from Bozeman, so I don't know if they're seeing an increased incidence there."

One such family, who was transported by Life Flight from Bozeman Health to St. Vincent's, is the Baxters.

"The first couple days were really, really hard and scary. It’s like, am I going to lose the most important thing in my life?” said Rich Baxter, father of 20-month-old pediatric ICU patient, Ethan Baxter.

Ethan Baxter was feeling much better Tuesday — the last day of his 10-day stay at St. Vincent's.

"We were hearing about it in the news and that it was supposed to be really, really bad this year," said Jess Baxter, Ethan's mom. "But we never thought it would be so bad."

RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, presents cold-like symptoms and can infect people of any age, though it is especially dangerous in infants and young children.

"It happened so quickly," Rich Baxter said. "We took him into daycare and he seemed fine, but then by the [next] morning we could see he was really laboring to breathe."

The Baxters took Ethan into Bozeman Health, where he was admitted right away. Soon after, doctors told the Baxters they would need oxygen assistance and specialty care.

Ten days later, the Baxters were packing their bags to go home, as Ethan is well enough to be released from the hospital.

They're leaving with a deep gratitude to everyone in the hospital, from the doctors and nurses who treated Ethan to the cafeteria staff who provided the hospital with a Thanksgiving dinner.

"It's been a very, very tough 10 days but I am beyond thankful to be here," Rich Baxter said. "I'd be surprised if you could find a better crew than the group here."

"It's nice to know Montana has a hospital like this."