Pete Buttigieg Shares 'Terrifying' Experience of Watching His Infant Twins Battle RSV

In a personal essay, Pete Buttigieg described how he and husband Chasten dealt with their twins' early health scares, including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)

Pete and Chasten Buttigieg Reveal Their Twins' Names with First Family Photo: 'Beyond Thankful'
Chasten (left) and Pete Buttigieg and their kids. Photo: Pete Buttigieg/Twitter

Pete Buttigieg is detailing the "terrifying" health scare his twins Penelope Rose and Joseph "Gus" August faced in their early months of life.

In a personal essay published on Medium, the 40-year-old U.S. Transportation Secretary opened up about the health issues faced by his children, including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which they developed about a month after they were adopted by Buttigieg and husband Chasten in September 2021.

As premature newborns, the twins dealt with a number of health issues in their first few weeks of life, requiring constant, active care.

"Penelope developed severe reflux, terrifying us when she would stop breathing and turn purple in a matter of seconds," Buttigieg wrote. "More than once, it happened in the car, prompting Chasten to hurriedly pull over so we could unbuckle her from her seat and help get her breathing back into rhythm while standing on the side of the road."

The couple dove into parenthood as a team, tackling sleep deprivation — and their twins' health issues — in shifts.

"It was joyful, too, of course," he assured. "Some of the sweetest moments happened during those bleary feedings around one or four in the morning, as Penelope's dark round eyes blinked up at me from behind the bottle, or when Joseph, whom we quickly nicknamed Gus, produced a resounding and adorable burp that echoed like a little joke just between us."

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But Buttigieg said the new parents quickly "learned to live out of a hospital room" after Penelope and Gus developed coughing and breathing problems.

"One day, the kids got a cold. Soon it was a cough. Then Penelope started to have trouble breathing," he said. "Over FaceTime, our doctor expressed concern about the way her belly was retracting under her ribs as she worked to take in air. Chasten drove her to the Emergency Room while I stayed home with Gus. His skin took on a mottled look, and by the next day he was admitted to the hospital too."

The entire family was diagnosed with RSV. "For us it just meant a nasty cold, but for premature infants like them it was a serious threat," Buttigieg explained.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, RSV is a common respiratory virus that usually causes cold-like symptoms. The virus is especially common in infants, with almost all children contracting an RSV infection by their second birthday. With more severe cases, RSV can cause infections such as bronchiolitis or pneumonia.

Pete and Chasten Buttigieg
Chasten Buttigieg/instagram

Buttigieg's twins were given oxygen and discharged days later. However, Gus' breathing continued to struggle and he landed back in the hospital.

"We started hearing words like "serious" and then "critical," and soon the doctor was recommending we immediately transfer Gus to a full-scale children's hospital in Grand Rapids, about a hundred miles away, and place him on a ventilator," he continued. "Next thing we knew, the doctor had determined that the ventilator couldn't wait — Gus would need to be intubated now and then transferred."

The former Navy reservist expressed how scary it was to see his son in the ICU.

"Parenting is lots of things, and one of those things is terror," Buttigieg added. "You watch your infant, sedated and surrounded by wires and tubes and monitors and medical personnel coming and going constantly, and wonder how we could live in a universe where a few weeks could be all that a child gets on this earth."

Fortunately, Gus' condition improved and he was able to go home. Earlier this month, Buttigieg celebrated the twins' first birthday.

"Yes, sometimes parenting is terror," Buttigieg wrote in the essay. "It is also dependency, and it is reason for constant and enormous gratitude.

"Even with the enormous advantages we had — a good salary, excellent health insurance, flexibility at work, and most important of all, each other — it had felt like we were barely keeping things together," he ended. "I became newly mindful of the stakes of our policy debates about family matters, knowing that so many families in these predicaments have none of the benefits that we do, part of why a serious illness in the family can mean financial ruin for too many parents who don't have the support networks that we were so fortunate to rely on."

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