Meet Saybie, the world's tiniest baby born, ever!
But as Paul Wozniak, a neonatologist at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns in San Diego, stood in the delivery room last December looking down at the infant he had just been handed, he was shocked.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God, I can't believe how small she is,’” Wozniak told The Washington Post. The doctors had anticipated the baby would be around 400gmslightly less than 1lb), but she was even tinier. “We weren't expecting anyone this small,” he said.
On Wednesday the hospital announced that the baby, nicknamed “Saybie” by her nurses and doctors, was born weighing 245gm, which means she is now believed to be the world's smallest surviving infant. According to the Tiniest Babies Registry, a database maintained by the University of Iowa, Saybie weighed 7gm less than the title's previous holder, a baby girl born in Germany in 2015.
Despite her small size and the host of health complications that can potentially be deadly for a “micro-preemie,” or a premature infant born before 28 weeks, Saybie lived. After nearly five months in the neonatal intensive care unit, Saybie’s parents, who wished to remain anonymous, took their “healthy 5-pound infant” (2.26kg) home earlier this month, the hospital said.
“I was stunned, frankly,” Wozniak said, adding that he spoke with Saybie’s mother on Wednesday and she told him her daughter was up to 2.8kg “and doing great.”
Saybie’s outlook, however, wasn't always so positive.
It all began on that December day when Saybie’s mother suddenly didn't feel right.
“It was the scariest day of my life,” the mother said in a video released by the hospital on Wednesday. “I just felt very uncomfortable, and I thought maybe this is part of the pregnancy.”
Doctors soon informed her that she had pre-eclampsia, which can cause high blood pressure. If left untreated, pre-eclampsia can lead to serious or even fatal complications for both the mother and baby, according to the Mayo Clinic.
During Wednesday's news conference, Dana Chortkoff, the OB/GYN who delivered Saybie, said the mother had “severely elevated blood pressure” and that if the baby's life were to be saved, she needed to come out.
“I kept telling them she's not going to survive, she's only 23 weeks,” the mother said in the video. A typical pregnancy is 40 weeks.
Nationally, the survival rate for babies born around the same time as Saybie is about 20%, Wozniak told The Post. Several studies from recent years report equally grim statistics.
When Saybie was born in December, she wasn't breathing, but “had a good heart rate,” Wozniak said. He said her parents decided that if she had a heart rate “they wanted everything done.”
Wozniak said the hospital had its fair share of “23-weekers,” but Saybie’s diminutive size, which was caused in part by the pre-eclampsia, made her situation all the more challenging. It was difficult to find properly sized equipment, he said, noting that even the NICU resuscitation beds’ built-in scales were unable to register her weight because they couldn't go below 300gm.
The first thing Wozniak and his team had to do was put in a breathing tube. One about the size of a juice-box straw needed to be cut down before it was successfully inserted, he said. Saybie was warmed up, dried off and given medicine to help her breathe, he said. Then all they could do was wait.
“We just sat by her bedside the first six hours,” Wozniak said. “I thought her chances of making it probably weren't good. I told the folks every hour I would update them, but there's a good chance she's going to die.”
The mother said in the video that she recalled doctors telling Saybie’s father that he would only have about an hour with the newborn before she passed away. “But that hour turned into two hours, which turned into a day, which turned into a week,” she said.
As nurses and doctors watched Saybie slowly improve and gain weight, they continued to worry about the variety of life-threatening medical challenges “micro-preemies” can face. It is not uncommon for brain bleeds and lung and heart issues to occur, but much to everyone's surprise, Saybie “experienced virtually none” of those complications, the hospital said.
In the video, colourful signs could be seen plastered on the walls around Saybie’s crib. Some kept track of her weight and other milestones. “No more breathing tube,” one read. “Tiny, But Mighty,” another declared.
Saybie kept astounding doctors with her progress, Wozniak said.
“Many babies like this go home on oxygen, which I thought she probably would, but no, she weaned off of it,” he said, adding that she was also breast-feeding well and didn't need a feeding tube.
Though Saybie appears to have defied the odds for now, Wozniak said that could change as she gets older.
Still, Saybie’s story should inspire hope among parents and medical professionals, Wozniak said.