When William Nathaniel Walker was born, he could fit in the palm of his father’s hand.

Holding him wasn’t an option, however. William had been born 3 months and 3 days early, and at just 15.2 ounces he was quickly in need of medical intervention.

When Christina Walker was just 22 weeks pregnant, she said William was diagnosed with intrauterine growth restriction, a condition where a baby doesn’t grow at a normal rate in the womb.

“I was hospitalized at 25 weeks, and at 26.5 weeks I started developing preeclampsia,” Christina said.

William had to be delivered early. He was doing fine for about 30 hours, but then had to have a tracheostomy to insert a breathing tube and had a feeding tube put in. Things were scary and stressful for Christina and her husband, Aaron Walker, as they watched the staff at Prisma Health in Greenville work to help their tiny tot thrive.

“Especially when he was first born, it was hard not knowing how things would turn out,” Aaron said. “We didn’t even know if he was going to make it.”

But as time went on, they saw their baby boy grow and meet one milestone after another. Now, at more than 5 months old (about 2 months, developmentally) the proud parents are celebrating every moment with their son — but they still have to go to the hospital to see him. Until the couple can find a certified pediatric home nurse, their son can’t come home with them.

“His lungs are doing great, but because of the trach and because he’s on a ventilator, they won’t send him home,” Christina said. “He’s our promise-baby, so we knew he was going to be okay. God didn’t promise us an easy journey, but he promised us this amazing child, and I just know he’s going to be a little world-changer.”

The couple’s faith forged a path forward for them, as they learned the ins and outs of the equipment William needs. The nurses and staff at Prisma have been a huge help as they learned the ropes.

“I can’t brag enough about all the doctors and the March of Dimes, they’ve been great,” Aaron said. “They treat William like he’s their own; they’re so good with him.”

Rachel Balk, March of Dimes NICU family support specialist, said the group has helped the Walkers by offering support, helping them celebrate William’s milestones and even helping capture moments by bringing in professional photographers. These services are intended to help families with premature babies through what can often be a challenging time in the NICU.

While about 40% of infants will spend less than two weeks in the NICU, the remaining 60% can end up spending longer, often with complicated medical cases, like William’s.

William has grown a lot in 5 months, weighing more than 10 pounds now. He’s got bright eyes and loves to explore, recognizing faces and absorbing details as he looks around. He seems to love cuddles, Christina said, and is incredibly talkative with everyone at the hospital. He’s so popular with the nurses, it’s earned him a nickname.

“They call him the Mayor of the NICU,” Christina said. “He’s just so inquisitive, he loves new people and looking at lights.”

It’s hard to pull themselves away at night when it’s time to head home from a visit with William. Christina said even with her appreciation for all the hospital staff do, it’s tough knowing other people are tucking him in at night. She’s so grateful he’s alive and healthy, but beyond ready to have her son home.

“I miss him, and I just thought he would be home by now,” she said.

The problem is, while there are several different home health agencies in the Greenwood area, none have the certified pediatric nurse they need. The closest nursing services that offer that are in Greenville, but they live in Bradley.

“The main problem is just a shortage of home health nurses,” Aaron said. “We basically just have to wait for a service to hire a nurse.”

They’ve been approved for 91 hours of nursing service a week, but until they find a nurse, William can’t come home. With Christina planning to be a stay-at-home mom and Aaron serving as an engineer with the Greenwood Fire Department and assistant chief at the Troy Volunteer Fire Department, Christina said whoever gets the job will practically be a part of the family.

Any qualified nurse interested in caring for William, or anyone who knows a qualified nurse, is urged to contact Aveanna Healthcare at 800-725-6950 or BAYADA Home Health Care at 864-448-5000.

“I have so many goals for when he gets home,” Christina said. “I want to introduce him to the outside, and to our puppy dogs and to let his grandparents hold him. I’m so excited for what his future holds.”

Contact staff writer Damian Dominguez at 864-634-7548 or follow on Twitter @IJDDOMINGUEZ.