(CHARLOTTE, N.C.) — When Kenna Moore left Presbyterian Hemby Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, N.C., Tuesday afternoon, it was no ordinary discharge.
Little Kenna spent the entire six months of her life in the hospital after being born on Jan. 9 weighing only 9.6 ounces — smaller than a can of soda.
“[It’s] one of the happiest days of our lives. After 183 days in neonatal intensive care, our beautiful baby Kenna is coming home,” her parents, Nicki and Sam Moore, said in a statement.
Kenna is the world’s fourth-smallest surviving baby, according to Dr. Edward Bell of the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital, the founder of The Tiniest Babies registry.
Born at only 24 weeks, doctors were not sure how long she would survive.
Bell said the survival rate for babies in most U.S. hospitals at 24 weeks is better than 60 percent.
Nicki Moore found out at only 18 weeks that her baby stopped growing.
“We knew she was going to be small, but hoped she would be bigger than she was,” said Moore, 39.
A few weeks later when she was born, something very unusual — and alarming — happened.
“When she was born, the baby, the placenta and the bag of water came out together,” said Dr. Rogers Howell, Kenna’s neonatologist. “Once the placenta comes loose, there’s no way to breathe anymore and we had to open the bag of water.”
That was only the beginning of the life-threatening medical problems tiny Kenna endured.
Doctors had to put in breathing tubes, an extraordinarily difficult and delicate task in a baby as small as Kenna.
Kenna also needed a feeding tube because she was unable to take her mother’s milk right away. On top of that, she developed hernias, retinopathy of prematurity — a condition in premature infants that causes abnormal blood vessel development in the retinas — and necrotizing enterocolitis, a condition in premature infants that leads to the death of intestinal tissue.
And her body also had to start using organs that were still immature.
“She had to start using her lungs, GI tract, immune system and other organs,” said Howell. “Because her body was so stressed, it took a long time for her body to get over the stress.”
But all the while, Moore knew that one day, her baby would be going home. Kenna wasn’t her first experience with a premature birth. Her son, now 14, was born at 30 weeks and spent six weeks in the hospital.
Kenna is her first child with her current husband. Even after they got the news that Kenna stopped growing before five months gestation, they refused to give up hope.
“One of the doctors suggested I consider an abortion, but that was off the table,” she said.
Instead, they prepared themselves for the nail-biting, room-pacing months ahead.
The couple spent most of the past six months in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit where Kenna received care.
“The NICU can best be described as a roller coaster, and you just have to strap in and enjoy the ride as best as possible,” Moore said. “You can’t control what happens. You can only control your attitude. We tried to throw our hands in the air and yell, ‘Whee!'”
Although now off the roller coaster, Kenna still has other ones to ride.
“She will go home on oxygen, and will need nipple feedings, some tube feedings, vitamins and other medications,” Rogers said. “It’s a long, uncertain road ahead.”
“There will still be lots of doctor appointments and therapists coming to the house to make sure she can meet her milestones,” Moore added.
While they are happy Kenna is finally going home, the staff who cared for her for six months will miss the baby they called their “little bird.”
“When Kenna was about three or four days old, another nurse took her footprints, and we all laminated them and made copies and we carry them with our badges as a reminder of how small she was and that she made it this far,” said Samantha Mullis, one of Kenna’s nurses.
And Moore hopes Kenna will also inspire others who are going through hard times.
“By sharing the challenges we faced and this experience, we hope it will help people who are going through something similar and can’t find any words of hope,” she said. “You have to find something to hold onto and try to find the positive in everything.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Sam Penrod, KSL.com
Kevin Conlon, Euan McKirdy and Johanzynn Gatewood, CNN
Susan Scutti, CNN