Matthew and Alexander Philbrook
On April 18, 2012, Matthew Philbrook and his then Seven-month old son, Alexander, came into the KUT News Studios to share their experience during the Central Texas wildfires.
Philbrook: Well my – my second son was born on September 3, 2011, at 1:56 in the morning or something like that, which was Saturday morning and that Saturday was the day that the wildfires started. We had gone – my wife went into labor on Friday morning and so it was about 16 hours from when her water broke to when Alexander was born and we were in the hospital and both sets of grandparents, my parents and her parents, were able to make the trip up in that time. My wife’s parents live outside New Orleans, which is about a 10 hour drive and my parents live down in the valley in Edinburgh, so they made the trip up. So we were at the hospital and the birth went fairly well, no real complications during the birth.
So 1:30 in the morning, Alexander arrived and he was beautiful and everyone was happy and then Saturday night, so after about 16 hours or so, he was about 16 hours old, they were doing a typical newborn checkup and they noticed a slight heart murmur on his heart and they also noticed that when he would cry and get really fussy, he would stop breathing and he would turn kind of a what they called dusky color, a little bit reddish from lack of oxygen. So, they said that’s not unusual with a newborn, but combined with a heart murmur, there was some concern, so they transferred him to the NICU, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Seton Hospital on 38th Street in Austin and so we went up there Saturday night and my wife was still actually a patient on the second floor and the NICU was on the eighth floor so for about the first 12 hours until she could get discharged as a patient, she had to go from the second floor to the eighth in a wheelchair every two hours to go up and feed Alexander because we were trying to breastfeed.
We didn’t want to introduce formula. We didn’t want to introduce a bottle at that point. So, but then we were finally able to – she got discharged and the Neo – the NICU there at Seton has a – a kind of an apartment that they call the room-in space, which is for parents of children in the NICU and so there were no other parents at the time who needed to, so we were able to get that space which is just down the hall from the NICU on the eighth floor. We were not able to bring Alexander into the room-in with us. He was still in the NICU, but we were able to be so much closer. So, we still needed to – every two hours, my wife had to go in and breastfeed Alexander.
It was very uncommon – he was a full term baby. He was eight and a half pounds, so he was three our four times the size of some of the other babies in the NICU and he was healthy except for that one heart murmur when he was 16 hours old. There were no other signs of any type of abnormality. So, he was a healthy big baby and the NICU nurses always were joking that if we didn’t watch it he would eat the other babies because he was so big. But it’s very uncommon in the NICU to breastfeed because the babies are so small and often times they can’t breastfeed. So, the nurses were comfortable with introducing formula, introducing bottles, so we really had to advocate to make sure that didn’t happen and that at4:00in the morning or4:00in the afternoon, whenever he was hungry, that they would call my wife and she would come in and feed him. So, we ended up being in the NICU for about five days and were discharged with no further complications.
On that Monday, we were in the NICU, so on Monday, September 5, at that point we’d been in the hospital for, you know, three days and hadn’t looked outside, hadn’t been outside, hadn’t looked at the news, hadn’t talked to anybody, it was just kind of focusing on our family and we heard some of the nurses talking about kind of how bad it was out there and they couldn’t believe the destruction and we had no idea what they were talking about. So, one of the nurses walked us over to some of the windows on the eighth floor, which is the top floor of the Seton Hospital. It has beautiful views looking south and looking west and literally the entire horizon looking west was dark with smoke. It was – I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. It was – it was really amazing that something like that could happen so close and I had no idea about it for two and a half days after it had started. So, at that point, we started looking up news on our phones and looking up – watching news on any TV we could – we could get at that point and it was – it was quite amazing how bad it was out there and we were just kind of focusing on our son in the hospital.
So, you know, it was – it was very kind of surreal to see the destruction out there and be where we were in the NICU where there were still many other children who were struggling or fighting and he was doing fine. Alexander was doing fine. There wasn’t – there wasn’t ever a question of whether or not he would survive. It was – he was, you know, it was just kind of something that they noticed one time and they kind of took – took precautions, which I’m – I’m glad they did take those precautions but – so that – that’s kind of our experience with the – with the wildfires.
KUT News: So was it just one big blanket of smoke or were there different pockets?
Philbrook: From what I remember it was – it looked like it was all together. I think, at that point, a lot of the smoke had blown and so there might have been, you know, some spaces where there was no fire underneath it, just the smoke had blown over, but from what I remember, it was kind of across almost the whole horizon.
KUT News: So west meaning the Pedernales, Spicewood, Steiner Ranch fires and Bastrop?
Philbrook: I’m sorry. I’m sorry. When I said west, I meant east because we were looking from 38th looking east toward the Bastrop fires.
KUT News: Oh, you were looking east, okay.
Philbrook: Yes, I’m sorry. I did say west. I meant east.
KUT News: So you were looking at that big, huge fire?
Philbrook: Yeah, yeah, I’m – yeah, yeah.
KUT News: My goodness. Did you have any – when you left the hospital, was there – and you live where in Austin?
Philbrook: We live north near Mopac and Parmer.
KUT News: So there was just no…
Philbrook: Yeah, I mean…
KUT News: Interaction.
Philbrook: There was no direct interaction with the fire, no, you know, I mean, yeah. There was no…
KUT News: Friends or family in…
Philbrook: No friends or family. My wife and I are not originally from Austin, so we – my – my sister and my wife’s brother both live in Austin now, but both of them were not affected and so our – and our grandparents, obviously, don’t – don’t live in Austin, so I did have one kind of acquaintance who I heard had to evacuate but their house wasn’t – wasn’t damaged, so…
KUT News: So you’ll – do you always feel like you’ll always connect those two major events?
Philbrook: I do. I – you know, they – they, you know, about a month and a half ago, they were talking about the six month anniversary of the wildfires and it was exactly on his – his six month birthday, you know, and – you know, he’ll turn a year on exactly the – the year anniversary. I’m sure there’ll be a big, you know, to-do in the media here in Austin about kind of a year later from the wildfires and so, you know, it’s – it is something that I will always kind of connect that – that, you know, Labor Day Weekend 2011 was, you know, I’ll always remember when that is. You know, a lot of people, you know, three or four months later, I’d say, “Wow, can you believe it’s been three or four months since the fire?” I’m like, “Wow, it’s been that long already?” and I kind of knew exactly how long it had been because that’s exactly how old Alexander is, so…
KUT News: And you wrote into us – wrote in your – your story and I loved how you call Alexander your – what do you call Alexander?
Philbrook: What did I call him?
KUT News: Your Labor Day…
Philbrook: My Labor Day baby.
KUT News: Your Labor Day baby.
Philbrook: Which is kind of ironic because my wife went through labor.
KUT News: Exactly. You’ve got two labors going on. What do you wan to say, Alexander? What would you like to say? What good news came that weekend? Yes. Yes, in the midst of all the bad news, just the very best news. Yes.
Philbrook: So he is doing fine now. He’s completely healthy, completely – 50th percentile on all his height and weight check ups and doing – doing really well. He’s almost crawling at this point. He’s sitting up really well and he’s – when he’s on his stomach, he’s pulling his legs up and rocking, but he’s not yet moving forward, but he can roll around on the floor and he can – we have to watch out because he will get places quickly.
KUT News: So that – the crying and the holding his breath, that all went away? That only happened once?
Philbrook: Yeah. They – yeah, they – they said that’s actually pretty typical of kind of the first 24 hours and so if it had been one or the other, it wouldn’t have been a concern, but both together, they said it was just kind of a something they wanted to take an extra precaution and, you know, once he got in the NICU he was completely healthy and fine and so, now he wants to eat the microphone. He wants to eat anything and everything. He’s a healthy eater.
KUT News: That’s wonderful. Well, we’re so happy you came in to tell us your story. Now what did your wife think of the – when she saw the fire and the window?
Philbrook: I – I think it’s – we actually – the – we just recently passed the year anniversary of the big fire in Southwest Austin, the one that was out kind of by Oak Hill area and actually on the day that that happened, we actually were down at the Austin zoo in the morning, which is right in that area and we had stopped for lunch and I have to give a shout out to the place we stopped for lunch called Counter Culture, which is from Louisiana, where my wife and I are both from. But as we left Counter Culture for lunch, we saw people standing in the parking lot looking back and we – at that point, we saw the smoke from that fire and so we were leaving going away from it as all the emergency vehicles were coming in. So, you know, that was just, you know, five or six months before Alexander was born and before the Labor Day fires and so – but the Labor Day fires were so much more kind of more smoke and more destructive and so – to be honest, I think both my wife and I were probably a little bit sleep deprived at that moment and so, you know, I don’t know if really kind of the momentous nature of the fires kind of…
KUT News: And why would it? You know, you’re – you’re just – she had just given birth to this beautiful baby.
KUT News: Exactly, I know.
KUT News: Reality sinks in a lot later, other realities rather.
Philbrook: Right. Right.
KUT News: We had somebody come in who – who was married out near Spicewood that day and they had no idea. They kept it from them.
Philbrook: Oh, wow.
KUT News: They didn’t know until they were at JFK getting a connecting flight for their honeymoon to Barcelona and they saw it on the news. Well, that’s a great story. We’re so happy you came in to – to share your story, Alexander and Matthew.
Philbrook: I just – I just, you know, whenever I think of the wildfires I associated it, you know, with Alexander which, you know, maybe isn’t the best association, but it’s definitely something that sticks in my memory.
KUT News: Well and you know, he may just be one of these – these – these incredible fiery – fiery boys growing up.
Philbrook: That’s right.
KUT News: I’m sure he’ll be told that story.
KUT News: Thank you for coming in Matthew and Alexander.
Philbrook: Thank you for having us. Can you say bye-bye to the microphone? Bye-bye.
KUT News: Bye. I wish I could give it to you. You could eat it. And Matthew, could you please say your name and where you live and who’s here with you?
Philbrook: Yes. My name is Matthew Philbrook. I live in Austin, Texas in North Austin and I’m here with my seven-month-old son, Alexander Eli Philbrook.
KUT News: And what about Alexander?
Philbrook: Alexander is my Labor Day baby. He was born – he was born early in the morning on – there he goes – early in the morning on Saturday, September 2, 2011.
KUT News: Thank you very much.