A baby considered to be the “most premature known survivor to date,” according to a case in the journal Pediatrics, recently turned three-years-old. To say Courtney Stensrud’s little one’s survival was a miracle is an understatement, as she was born at 21 weeks, just four days after conception. According to a report from CNN, “In the United States, most pediatrics and obstetrics societies agree that 22 weeks of gestation is the lower threshold of viability, and many doctors recommend against assessing for viability or resuscitating babies born younger than 22 weeks due to a low chance of survival.”
To put it into perspective, full-term babies are born at 39 through 40 weeks.
Stensrud explained how when a medical emergency led to her daughter’s birth in 2014, she couldn’t find any stories online of women giving birth that early. She noted: “There were stories of 22-weekers, 23-weekers, but nothing about 21-weekers. So I knew that there was little to no survival or viability at 21 weeks.”
Her doctor, Dr. Kaashif Ahmad, told Stensrud and her husband that the baby’s chances of survival were very low and counseled against resuscitating the baby. Stensrud held her newborn 15-ounce baby in her arms while the doctor explained the next steps, noting: “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.”
She continued: “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.”
Dr. Ahmad explained that while Stensrud’s daughter survived, “We have to be very cautious about generalizing one good outcome to a larger population,” adding, “It is very possible that there have been many 21-week babies resuscitated in other places that did not have positive outcomes, and for that reason, we haven’t heard about them.”
He continued: “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.”
The World Health Organization estimates that worldwide, 15 million babies are born prematurely every year.
Ahmad and his colleagues discuss Stensrud’s daughter’s case in their report, explaining:
“When the mother asked that we do everything for her daughter, despite having no reason to believe the baby would survive, I just made the decision to proceed with a vigorous resuscitation.” Following the placement of a breathing tube and oxygen, he said, “her heart rate began to rise…she very slowly changed colors from blue to pink, and she actually began to move and began to start breathing within a few minutes.”
Stensrud further explained how her daughter progressed developmentally, noting,
“If you didn’t know that she was so preemie, you would think she’s a normal 3-year-old. In her school, she is keeping up with all the other 3-year-olds. She loves playing with other kids. She loves everything I think a normal 3-year-old likes.”