Wearing a white T-shirt bearing the phrase "Worth the Wait," Walter Douglas "WD" Shinall soared like a superhero with his father’s assistance Thursday evening.
For Tom Shinall, who happily lifted his 10-month-old in the air, the tiny garment says it all. After he and his wife, Elizabeth, experienced infertility and later watched as their newborn son "battled and fought mightily," Shinall is thrilled to be celebrating his first Father's Day today.
"The title of father is the greatest achievement of my life," the 34-year-old Adairsville resident said. "I remember the day we found out. Our fertility doctor called and left Elizabeth a voicemail, and we sat together on the couch and listened. We shared an emotional embrace and rejoiced. I have several early memories of ‘seeing’ my son. I vividly recall the doctor holding him up during the procedure. I can still see him in the NICU [neonatal intensive care unit] incubator.
"When I close my eyes, I can see him lying in the NICU fighting for his life. Today, I see his smile and the way he lights up a room with his infectious personality. He is my greatest joy. He is my hero."
Conceived through in vitro fertilization, Walter was delivered Aug. 16, 2017, during an emergency cesarean section at Cartersville Medical Center. While he weighed a healthy 7 pounds 15.3 ounces, the newborn immediately was facing complications from having his umbilical cord wrapped around his body.
"After several years of marriage and not being able to conceive naturally, Elizabeth and I began our infertility journey," Shinall said. "As a family of faith, we knew this was the path we were meant to be on. Following three failed intrauterine insemination (IUI) treatments, we were finally successful through in vitro fertilization (IVF). Knowing we were on this journey for a reason, we wanted to be open and honest with others, hopeful that our journey could be beneficial to others facing similar situations. We shared our infertility journey via social media and YouTube — https://youtu.be/GQhOFQGZRRM — and received an outpouring of love and support.
"Given the difficulty we faced just getting pregnant, we — mainly Elizabeth — had a smooth pregnancy. As we prepared for Walter’s birth, things changed. His heart rate began to spike and then would drop rapidly. Dr. Barfield and his team of nurses acted swiftly and justly by rushing Elizabeth into an emergency cesarean section procedure."
He continued, "Walter’s umbilical cord had wrapped around his neck and his body, causing him to gasp as it would constrict. While still in the womb, he passed his first stool — meconium — which is a very thick, tar-like substance. His gasps caused him to inhale an exorbitant amount of this stool, amniotic fluid mixture resulting in a severe case of meconium aspiration syndrome."
Needing further care after his birth, Walter was transported to Hamilton Medical Center's NICU in Dalton, where he stayed more than two weeks.
"Upon the arrival of Hamilton’s NICU ambulance, they brought Walter to our room in an incubator, hooked to more wires and machines than I could count," Shinall said. "They explained the transfer procedure and were gone; timing was everything. I made it to Dalton the following morning and met with the NICU doctor and nurses. I was met outside Walter’s room and forewarned about his appearance and condition. As the doctor said, 'We have a very sick baby on our hands.' Amidst the whirlwind of events and emotions, I never really grasped how bad Walter was until we were being checked out of the NICU and several doctors and nurses came to see him off because they never expected to see him leave.
"Walter was in the NICU for 17 days. The meconium covered nearly 100 percent of both of his lungs. He wasn’t able to breathe on his own for nearly two weeks as his lungs had to absorb the tar-like substance. Each day was a battle; two steps forward, one step back. I learned that the meaning behind the name ‘Walter’ is ‘warrior’ and that he is. He battled and fought mightily as he worked to control his respiratory rate, oxygen levels, food intake, IVs and medications. I was able to hold my son for the first time … [when he was] 1 week, and I will never forget that moment."
Among the sixth generation in his family to call Bartow home, Shinall is well-known in the community and was "in awe" by the level of support his family received during his son's health journey.
Currently the director of development at Savoy Automobile Museum, he served as the director of marketing at Booth Western Art Museum from August 2012 to May 2018. He also is the cofounder of The TC Show, which provides DJ and entertainment services.
Locally, his community involvement includes being a member of Cartersville-Bartow County Convention & Visitors Bureau's board of directors, the Rotary Club of Etowah, Cartersville First Baptist Church and the Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce.
"As each day progressed, we would travel to and from Dalton," Shinall said. "I had to trust, believe in and pray for the doctors and nurses who watched over my son, because I had to also consider the health, both physically and mentally, of my wife. She was overcoming a major surgery and was having to deal with the thoughts of ‘what if, why and how.’ As I stood over Walter that first night, alone, I prayed. I had to believe that we did not go through all of these tribulations and this be the outcome. At that moment, I knew we had to continue to be open and honest. I began a daily social media post/update on Walter, asking for prayers and support.
"To this day, I am still in awe of the prayers and support we received and will forever be grateful," he said, adding prayer groups were lifting up Walter's health condition across the Southeast, as well as Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Washington and Africa. "Obviously, we were not in town much during this span, so we didn’t really understand the amount of support we had. It wasn’t until after we were home and I was back to work until I grasped reality. Everyone I encountered was well aware of our situation and wanted an update. Still to this day, the vast majority of people I come across want an update on Walter and I am happy to say ‘he is happy, healthy and healed.’ There is no doubt in my mind that Walter was healed by the power of prayer, and it is due to the community rallying around our family."
Along with "godly, amazing [and] loving," Mrs. Shinall also describes her husband's fatherly traits as "caring, wonderful, goofy [and] helpful." Calling Walter a "blessing," she extends thanks to the community for their "prayers, love and support through such a difficult time."
"I love it when Walter and I get home and Tom’s face lights up like it was the first time he saw him," she said. "Walter is all excited to see Tom as well. Walter’s hands and feet go all over the place, and he is grinning from ear to ear. Tom will take him from me, love all over him and asks him about his day. It truly warms my heart to see his face light up and Walter getting all excited. He loves his daddy.
"Words cannot describe the true joy I feel. I never thought this day would come. Seeing the two of them together completely erases all the struggles we faced to get Walter here, from our infertility journey to his NICU fight. I have a feeling the two of them will be getting into some trouble in the days ahead."
Now a parent, Shinall reflects on his late father's role in his life. Like Walter, he also refers to him as his hero, thankful for the lessons imparted up through his late teenage years.
"I imagine this Father’s Day will be my best yet. I will always have mixed emotions on this day, but I’m positive WD will make a difference. We recently moved to the Adairsville area, and we are planning on hosting family for Father’s Day for some food, fun and fellowship.
"I was blessed to be raised in a home that taught the importance of the father figure, both spiritually and earthly. My dad, the late Barry Shinall, was my hero. He passed away to cancer at the age of 45, when I was only 18. Since his passing, I have found myself very fortunate to have men serve as father figures in my life — my late grandfather Morris Shinall, stepdad Ed Carder, father-in-law Randy Cheshire — among several friends, peers and colleagues who continue to show me the importance of being a father. My dad showed me what unconditional love truly is. He knew I was watching his every move and he allowed me to learn from his experiences. Daddy laid the foundation for the man, the father, I am today. I look at Walter every day and not only thank God, but I also thank my dad and grandfather. I know they played a part in Walter's journey."