According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 15 million babies are born before 37 weeks gestation every year
In the U.S., premature births now occur in one out of every 10 infants born, reported by the March of Dimes after the non-profit discovered a steady increase in preterm births over the last two years.
Once thought of as having an extremely low mortality rate, the truth is that the survival rate of infants born at 22 to 24 weeks gestation has also increased from 30-percent in 2000 to 36-percent in 2011.
So the fact that Courtney Stensrud’s premature baby turning three wouldn’t be such a headline, but there’s one caveat: Her daughter wasn’t born at 24 weeks or even 22 weeks.
Courtney’s daughter was born at only 21 weeks, four days gestation, making her the most premature baby ever born.
However, it wasn’t easy to reach the three-year milestone.
Just after Courtney gave birth, a neonatologist at the hospital told her that her 15-ounce daughter had an extremely low chance of survival and even initially counseled against resuscitating the baby.
Courtney listened to the doctor as she held her teeny, tiny baby with the umbilical cord still attached and knew her daughter’s survival was a longshot.
“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 four days. I didn’t care,” Courtney said.
“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,” Courtney said.
Courtney and her husband don’t share their daughter’s story with many people.
“I don’t tell her story a lot, but when I do, people are amazed,” Courtney 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.”
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The neonatologist that treated Courtney’s daughter warns that this is just one case and more research needs to be done on preemies born less than 22 weeks gestation.
“We have to be very cautious about generalizing one good outcome to a larger population,” he said.
“We reported this case because after this resuscitation she did well, but it may be possible that this is just an extraordinary case and that we shouldn’t expect the same from other babies. We have to learn more before we can make any conclusions.”