An infant who weighed just 11 ounces and was smaller than a soda can at birth is expected to head home from the hospital after six months of intensive care in San Diego.
Now six-months-old, Alexis Clarke – born at just over 25 weeks on April 19 – holds the record for the smallest baby ever delivered at UCSD Medical Center.
“She was 11 ounces. So, she was 340-grams,” mother Laurie Clarke said, holding up the palm of her hand to describe just how small her little girl was at birth. “[She was] smaller than a can of soda. But when I got to see her, she was just our baby angel.”
Alexis was born three-and-a-half months early. According to her mother, doctors had to deliver Alexis early due to complications stemming from an under-developed placenta.
At Alexis’ small size, Clarke said her baby’s odds of survival were low – less than 25 percent. Given survival, doctors told Alexis’ family that her odds of significant and permanent complications were high.
For the first-time mother, watching her baby spend several months in an incubator meant an almost unbearable wait to just hold her child, and wonder what went wrong with the pregnancy.
“Honestly, it was a lot of, ‘What did I do wrong?’” said Clarke between tears. “Hearing that it wasn’t anything that I did definitely helped.”
According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), babies born at 28 weeks or later survive 90 percent of the time.
Babies born between 24 and 27 weeks – as in Alexis’ case – survive 80 percent of the time.
Despite the precarious odds, Alexis, her parents and UCSD medical staff fought for her survival. For the first few months, Clarke said the situation was very much touch-and-go.
Immediately, the baby was placed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at UCSD Medical Center, surrounded by nurses and doctors tending to her 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Clarke said watching her newborn battle to survive was difficult. Not being able to hold her close was ever harder.
“It definitely challenges every bit of strength that you have. I mean, not being able to hold her for almost the first three months of her life is heartwrenching,” she said.
With time, care, resilience and advances of modern medicine, Alexis’ health progressed. Little by little, she grew a bit bigger, stronger and healthier.
“Well, I’d just say just in the past six years, we’ve had babies survive that we didn’t think could survive,” said Alexis’ doctor, Krishelle Marc-Aurele, of UCSD Medical Center.
What Alexis’ doctor says is backed up by current numbers.
According to a study released this year by the NCHS, from 2005 to 2009 preterm infant mortality in the United States decreased by 10 percent. The survival rate for babies born between 24 and 27 weeks has increased by 5 percent from a decade ago.
“Twenty years ago, she wouldn’t have survived,” Marc-Aurele told NBC 7 San Diego. “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe she’s 10 times bigger than she was. I can’t believe she looks like a normal baby.”
Today, Alexis weighs 7-pounds and 3-ounces, and is nearly headed home.
If all goes according to plan, Clarke said her little girl will be released from the hospital and headed home for the first time ever by Thanksgiving.
“We have something definitely huge to be thankful for,” said Clarke.
Though a homecoming is in sight, Clarke said her daughter is not out of the woods just yet. Every day, doctors remind the baby’s parents that an infant of her size is really a “day-by-day situation.”
And every day, Clarke cherishes each moment with her little one.
“We count every day as such a blessing with her, and we know we are so lucky to have her. Every day, you just never know,” said Clarke. “I couldn’t imagine loving someone as much as we do her.”
Alexis’ doctors said they’re glad to see the infant preparing for her big move home.
“We’re happy to see her go,” said Marc-Aurele.
Meanwhile, Alexis’ parents are so grateful to the medical staff, they’ve started a fundraising website to raise money for the NICU at UCSD Medical Center to help other families in their position. Donations can be made in any amount and Clarke said 100 percent of proceeds will go towards the NICU.
To learn more about the fundraiser and Alexis’ story, click here.
By the way, Nov. 17 is World Prematurity Day, according to the March of Dimes, a U.S. nonprofit that works to improve the health of mothers and babies. The March of Dimes website says more than 450,000 babies are born prematurely each year, with one in nine babies born too soon in the U.S.
A full-term pregnancy is between 37 and 39 weeks.