While Newhall residents Mike Escamillo and Brittney Westover were dating, Brittney had a dream that she was pregnant with a baby boy whose name she thought was Miles.
“The following night, I had the same dream, but the little boy came back and corrected me,” Brittney said. “He told me his name was Milo, not Miles. Mike and I both agreed that we liked that name, and if we ever had a boy, we would know what to name him.”
Years later, when the couple got married, instead of taking each other’s last names, they decided to create a new name, for their new adventure.
For the newlyweds, creating the last name Wescamillo was not just a merger of their two family names, it also symbolized the beginning of their new family, so once Brittney got pregnant with their first child, they were excited to allow their son to bring that name to life.
“Once we found out that I was having a boy, there was no question what his name would be,” Brittney said, adding that though it was eight-and-a-half years later, the dream had stuck with them.
“It’s cool to say that we invented a brand new family name,” Mike added, “and Milo is our first generation of that new family name.”
Even with his name set, the Wescamillos never expected that their son would have to fight so very hard to make that dream a reality.
Learning of the fight ahead
Brittney was only 12 weeks pregnant when doctors found Milo’s heart defect.
“(My OB-GYN) wasn’t 100% sure at the time what exactly it was, but he said that the left chamber looked really, really small, and so he suspected that it was HLHS, which is hypoplastic left heart syndrome,” Brittney said.
From then on, Mike and Brittney knew Milo would have to have a series of three major open-heart surgeries to correct the deformity during the early years of his life.
The fight ensues
“It was a very emotional time watching Milo be born and hearing his voice for the first time, seeing him on Mom’s chest for the few seconds that she was allowed,” Mike said.
Again, life threw a curveball, with the coronavirus pandemic changing the hospital rules to allow only one parent in the neonatal intensive care unit at a time, but still, Mike and Brittney were in good spirits.
“I was just so happy because he seemed to be doing well at the time,” Brittney said. “He was breathing on his own and crying, and those are all really good signs.”
“So we had a lot of hope,” Mike added.
The next few days were a whirlwind, as Milo went from Kaiser to Children’s Hospital to UCLA, where doctors learned of a second deformity, which would make it harder to fix Milo’s heart.
As Brittney went to meet Milo in the pediatric intensive care unit at UCLA, she was told of a new, stricter COVID-19 policy that only allowed one parent in the PICU for the entire duration of the patient’s stay, meaning Mike no longer would get to visit his son.
“I’m postpartum … and I have no control over my hormones or my emotions, so I basically had a nervous breakdown right there on the fifth floor,” Brittney said. “I finally went downstairs, and I broke the news to Mike, and he started sobbing, too.”
The news was devastating, as they were unsure whether Milo would be getting a transplant or how long he’d be in the hospital, let alone if he’d survive.
Even so, the Wescamillos pushed on, as doctors came up with a plan for Milo, deciding on a hybrid Norwood procedure, which would begin the process of repairing his heart.
Milo was less than 2 weeks old when doctors took him in for his first open-heart surgery, leaving his chest open for six days, covered in what looked like cellophane.
“It was actually really disturbing to see him after the surgery because … I could literally see his heart beating,” Brittney said.
Milo recovered well, and though the COVID-19 policy changed again, finally allowing Mike to see his son after 21 days, Milo remained in the hospital as holiday after holiday passed.
The fight gets mightier
Following a second catheter procedure to widen Milo’s atrial septum, Milo seemed to take a turn for the worse.
“He just didn’t really seem like the same baby when he came back,” Brittney said. “He looked really puffy and swollen, and he just was screaming and crying like I’ve never heard him before, like he was in a lot of pain.”
Though doctors kept reassuring the Wescamillos that everything looked good, they knew something just wasn’t right, until it got so bad one day that Milo stopped breathing, requiring chest compressions for six minutes before they were able to bring him back.
It was then that doctors told the Wescamillos that Milo’s heart might not be as strong as they thought.
“Just hearing (the doctor) say, ‘His heart looks really sick,’ it was devastating,” Mike said.
Taking it day by day
“Each day, it wasn’t really ever getting better, it was only getting worse, and he was in heart failure,” Brittney said.
The Wescamillos began trading off spending nights in the hospital, not wanting to leave Milo alone, while Mike continued working, with strong support from his boss and coworkers.
The Wescamillos became passing ships, only seeing each other sometimes for lunch in the cafe or for a few minutes in the foyer.
“It was really tough on us to not be able to lean on each other and experience all of this together,” Brittney said.
As music was important to them, they would sing to Milo, even recording videos of them singing so he could still hear their voices when they couldn’t be there.
Meanwhile, as they continued to see Milo decline into heart failure, they began advocating for a heart transplant, knowing he’d still need a series of surgeries if he didn’t get one.
In June, on the very same day the Wescamillos got the news that Milo had been added to the transplant list, the COVID-19 policy had once again changed, allowing parents in the same room together.
Milo continued to decline, hanging in there for nearly six weeks, until just after midnight on his 4-month birthday, when the Wescamillos received the best news of their lives: They’d found a heart.
“It was just an amazing feeling to let him go (into surgery) knowing that he was getting a new brand new heart that day,” Brittney said. “I knew I should be worried because he’s going in for a huge surgery, but I just felt calm about it.”
“We were confident that this was the right thing for him,” Mike added.
Following the surgery, Milo’s roller coaster ride continued, as blood clots caused him to have strokes and seizures.
“It was a waiting game to see how his body would accept the heart, and if everything would function properly,” Brittney said.
‘Milo’s Mighty Journey’
When Milo was born, Brittney had made him his own “Milo’s Mighty Journey” Facebook page to keep family and close friends updated on his progress.
“More and more people started to find out about it, and … it was an amazing, tremendous amount of love and support that we felt from all Milo’s followers,” Brittney said. “Just the amount of prayers, positive thoughts and good vibrations that people have sent to us, I think definitely helped aid in Milo’s recovery.”
After being released in August, Milo went home for the first time, accompanied by nearly two dozen medications, which his parents have continued to give him around the clock since.
Now, just over three months later, Milo still has weekly appointments, along with home-care nurses and occupational and physical therapists, who circulate through the house each week, but things have certainly gotten better.
“He was almost 5 months old by the time we brought him home, so he’s got a long way to go … but he still improves every single day,” Brittney said. “He’s been really thriving since we got home.”
Looking back, the Wescamillos agree that those months were the most difficult thing they’ve ever endured, especially with the added stress of the pandemic.
“When he was first born, you don’t know how much you can love something so much … and it just fills a space in your heart that you never knew was there,” Mike said, “so seeing him go through all this, it was very, very tough on me.”
“It’s been a crazy journey, but Milo is such a rock star,” Brittney added. “Every single day, he amazes us with some new thing that he’s able to do.”
It’s been seeing that turnaround that’s been the ultimate reward, especially seeing Milo start to smile for the first time, learning how to laugh and actually use his voice for “happy sounds.”
“Part of me still has a little bit of fear and anxiety at all times — I think that’s also part of just being a mom — but I’m still really optimistic about his future and just looking forward to seeing him continue to grow, catch up developmentally and make those milestones, so that he can just grow up like a normal kid, start running around and making music with us,” Brittney said. “All we really want for Milo is for him to enjoy life and to feel loved, so that’s what we intend on showing him.”
More than anything, the Wescamillos are forever grateful to his heart donor.
“Obviously, that’s an unimaginable tragedy that they must have gone through, but for them to be thoughtful enough to allow their child to be an organ donor and save another life is something that we definitely don’t take for granted,” Brittney added, “and we’re extremely thankful for every day.”