(LOS ANGELES) — Melinda Star Guido was supposed to be born Thursday. Instead, she came into the world 16 weeks early, one of the smallest premature babies ever to beat overwhelming odds and survive.
The tiny fighter, only 9.5 ounces and the size of her doctor’s hand at birth, now weighs 4 pounds. Doctors gave her no more than a 2 percent chance of survival, but she is thriving and could go home on New Year’s Day.
“For babies like Melinda, the fact she survived and is likely to go home is a tremendous accomplishment for the doctors and nurses who cared for her and for her family,” said Dr. Sessions Cole, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington in St. Louis and director of the Division of Newborn Medicine.
But Cole said there is a long road ahead for babies born extremely prematurely, and problems can show up for several years after the preemies leave the hospital.
“The good news is that for babies who survive, one-quarter to one-third will emerge at 3 to 5 years of age as doing well,” Cole said.
Those lucky ones will show brain development close to normal. Another third will have mild disabilities, like clumsiness or difficulty in saying words, Cole said. The remaining third will have “significant brain development issues” and could suffer seizures or be blind, deaf or disabled by cerebral palsy.
Baby girls tend to do better, for reasons that medical science doesn’t really understand, he said.
The Supreme Court generally considers a fetus viable at 24 weeks, but Cole said gestational age is not an exact science. In general, he said, many babies born at 27 to 28 weeks do well, and the vast majority of those born at 30 to 32 weeks thrive.
Baby Melinda is among those 1 percent to 1.5 percent of babies in the very highest-risk category.
After Melinda’s delivery by C-section, she began her life in an incubator at the neonatal intensive care unit at USC Medical Centre, receiving food through a tube and breathing with the aid of a machine.
Now, Melinda can breathe on her own, and her mom can lift her out of the incubator and cuddle her. Melinda has overcome an eye disorder and survived surgery to close an artery.
Her parents hoped to have her home for Christmas, but she’s not ready yet: She still has to get stronger and learn to bottle-feed. If all goes well, Melinda could join three other babies born around the world this year weighing less than a pound who made it out of the hospital to start growing up with their families.
Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio
Kevin Conlon, Euan McKirdy and Johanzynn Gatewood, CNN
Heather Simonsen, KSL.com
Susan Scutti, CNN