SILVER SPRING, Md. — Weighing only 280 grams, 105-day-old Heaven is the smallest baby to survive at Holy Cross Health.
The success story highlights the improvement in treating premature babies, particularly micro preemies who are born early with significantly lower body weight.
The hospital feared she would not survive but Heaven defied the odds when she arrived at 23 weeks at the NICU center. Doctors pointed to increased blood pressure during pregnancy.
"She isn't even at her due date yet, so if we were to continue to think her mom was still pregnant, Heaven isn't really due for another two weeks," Holy Cross Health Executive Director of Neonatology Dr. Janel Hino told WUSA9. "The stethoscope is almost the size of her chest she was so small."
Within the NICU unit at Holy Cross Health is the so-called tiny baby program established in 2019, which on average, sees up to 10 micro preemies at any given time. Holy Cross, a community hospital, has a large and labor delivery service that sees about 10,000 babies every year. There are about 40 NICU patients currently.
Dr. Hino has worked with the mother of Heaven five years earlier when her first daughter Sky was born 25 weeks early.
"It's not something that I wish for anyone but I feel like I was built for this, and I always try to be strong and always continue to be strong because if I'm not strong, the babies can't be strong," the mother, who wanted to conceal her identity, told WUSA9.
Dr. Hino said the survival rate for 23-weekers has improved tremendously from roughly 25% six years ago to 60% within the last year. Twenty-four weeks used to be the cut-off line for the hospital many years ago, but thanks to lessons learned from the program and different approaches, doctors are starting to treat younger babies even if only by a few days.
"We've even started pushing it back to below 23 weeks, like 22 weeks and five days," Hino said.
Certain set of protocols is implemented as soon as a baby is born, including using a specific breathing machine or ventilator, applying certain kinds of fluids, and feeding them within 24 hours using donor breast milk.
Baby Heaven now weighs more than 4 lbs. and can drink eight bottles of milk. The improvement is a relief for her mother who visits Heaven each day. Doctors hope she can be discharged within the next two weeks.
Her mother said big sister Sky, from Upper Malboro, is looking forward to taking care of her.
"I believe she's going to continue to be very strong and be very resilient, and I know her future ahead of her is going to be great," the mother added.
Holly Cross Health was recognized as a 2022 Healthgrades award for being one of America’s 100 Best Hospitals specifically seven years in a row with Labor and Delivery Excellence Award.