Baby Harper had the odds stacked against her.
Not only was she born extremely prematurely at 23 weeks of pregnancy, but she also had an incomplete esophagus. Doctors at Rocky Mountain Hospital in Denver, Colorado put the tiny baby’s chances of survival at just 1 percent.
But a year and two surgeries later, parents Kayla Hatch and Victor Jacobo, of Nebraska, said Harper is home and doing well.
KDVR News 8 reports Harper and her twin sister, Gabriella, were born prematurely in February 2021 at a hospital in their home state of Nebraska.
Because the twins were so premature, their local hospital transferred them to the Rocky Mountain Hospital in Denver, which specializes in treatment for premature babies.
At first, Harper’s chances of survival looked very slim.
“Twenty-three weeks is really the extreme limits of possible viability,” Dr. Steven Rothenberg, chief of pediatric surgery at the hospital, told KDVR.
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But Rothenberg and his team kept working to save the girls’ lives – which, for Harper, included fixing her esophagus.
Here’s more from the report:
Rocky Mountain Hospital believes the procedure marks the first successful Esophageal Atresia surgery on a baby weighing less than a pound.
“The gap was so great, it was hard to get the two ends together,” Rothenberg said. “I believe Harper is the smallest baby ever to be born, with this pure Esophageal Atresia, to survive.”
Doctors waited until Harper was full-term before performing a minimally-invasive surgery, followed by another surgery. Eventually, magnets were used in January 2022, about a month before the twins’ first birthday. The magnets, which were eventually removed, brought the incomplete esophagus together.
Rothenberg was pleased with the results of the surgery, saying, “It worked extremely well.”
Now, Harper and Gabriella both are home in Nebraska with their parents. The family expressed their immense gratitude to Rothenberg and his staff for saving their daughters’ lives.
“To see them breathing, kicking … it’s just truly awesome,” their father said. “We just can’t thank everyone enough for being there and helping us through these trying times.”
More premature babies are surviving and thriving thanks to modern medicine. In November, Guinness World Records recognized an Alabama boy who was born at 21 weeks as the youngest premature baby to survive. Curtis Means was born weighing 14.8 ounces at 21 weeks and one day in July 2020. In 2017, the journal Pediatrics highlighted the story of another girl who survived after being born at 21 weeks and four days of pregnancy.
However, some hospitals do not have the equipment to and others do not attempt to provide life-saving treatment to premature babies born before 24 weeks. A 2015 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that, although a growing number of premature infants are surviving at 22 weeks of pregnancy, some hospitals refuse to provide life-saving medical care based on assumptions about the babies’ future quality of life.
Twenty Two Matters keeps a running list of hospitals confirmed to have saved babies born at 21 weeks to 22 weeks of pregnancy.