Doctors and families alike are celebrating the life of a little girl believed to be the most premature baby ever to survive outside the womb.
Last week, the journal Pediatrics highlighted how the baby girl was born just 21 weeks and four days after conception at Methodist Children’s Hospital in San Antonio, Texas.
The girl now is 3 years old, and her mother, Courtney Stensrud, told CNN that her daughter is thriving and loving life. Reports withheld the little girl’s name to respect her family’s privacy.
“If you didn’t know that she was so preemie, you would think she’s a normal 3-year-old,” Stensrud said. “In her school, she is keeping up with all the other 3-year-olds. She loves playing with other kids. She loves everything I think a normal 3-year-old likes. She loves her baby dolls, she loves books, and she loves make-believe. She loves anything and everything her (older) brother is doing.”
But when Stensrud gave birth, her doctors did not recommend resuscitating her baby girl because she was so young.
Here’s more from the report:
Just after Stensrud gave birth, Dr. Kaashif Ahmad, a MEDNAX-affiliated neonatologist at the hospital and lead author of the case report, counseled her about the baby’s extremely low chances of survival and initially counseled against resuscitating the baby.
Stensrud listened as she held her 15-ounce girl in her arms, with the umbilical cord still attached, she said.
“Although I was listening to him, I just felt something inside of me say, ‘Just have hope and have faith.’ It didn’t matter to me that she was 21 weeks and 4 days. I didn’t care,” Stensrud said.
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“As he was talking to me, I just said, ‘Will you try?’ And he said he would, and three years later, we have our little miracle baby,” Stensrud said.
The tiny little girl spent 126 days in the hospital, but she now is doing well at home with her parents and older brother.
Stensrud said she did not share her daughter’s story to seek publicity but to give other parents hope.
“I don’t tell her story a lot, but when I do, people are amazed,” she said. “If there’s another woman in antepartum that is searching Google, they can find this story and they can find a little bit of hope and a little bit of faith.”
In his case report, Ahmad said Stensrud’s baby girl may be “the most premature known survivor to date.” What’s more, the little girl does not have any major auditory or visual impairments as a result of her premature birth, the doctor said.
While she may be the youngest, many other very premature babies also are surviving and thriving across the world.
A Duke University study published in January found babies born at just 23 weeks gestation are surviving outside the womb at a greater rate than ever before. Researchers examined 4,500 babies between 2000 and 2011 and found a “small but significant drop in fatalities for babies born between 23 and 37 weeks gestation,” as well as a decrease in premature babies manifesting with neurophysiological problems, the Daily Mail reported.
Research published in 2015 in the New England Journal of Medicine also found that 23 percent of premature infants are surviving birth as early as 22 weeks. However, the study also found that some hospitals are not giving babies treatment at this early age, despite talk about pushing back the standard viability line from 24 weeks to 23.
Viability also is an important mark in the abortion debate. In Roe v. Wade and the 1992 decision Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the U.S. Supreme Court argued that states do have an interest in protecting an unborn baby’s life once they are viable. Viability at the time was considered to be about 24-26 weeks, and a number of states have passed laws prohibiting abortions after that point.
But as technology advances and the viability line moves back, pro-life advocates hope to advance more measures to protect unborn babies from abortion.
Such cases also bring up the larger question of viability as a determinate of the value of human life. Stories like this little Texas girl’s should make society question if viability, a moving line, should really be the basis by which we determine whose life our society protects and who it allows to be killed.