Human Interest

Demi Stokes, born 10 weeks premature, defied odds and now plays pro soccer in UK


World Prematurity Day was observed this month on November 17 and organizations, parents, and preemie survivors have been sharing their stories of fear and determination. One story this month is that of English soccer star, Demi Stokes, who was born 10 weeks premature in 1991.

“I was born at home, ten weeks early,” she told Grazia. “When I speak to my mum about it now she’s quite calm about the whole thing, but it was fairly traumatic. Her waters broke in the bathroom, and I just started to appear. My older sister was two at the time, and she was running around screaming. It was a freezing cold, snowy December day and my mum said being taken out the front door in a wheelchair to a waiting ambulance, with all these school kids gathered round and watching her, was the most awful thing about it! She was so embarrassed.

“I weighed just 3 lbs, was very poorly and I was in hospital for a long period of time,” she added. “When I reached 4 lbs they let me go home, but the very next day I was rushed back into hospital for surgery on a blockage in my bowel. It was a traumatic time for my family.”

The rate of survival for infants born that early was very low 30 years ago and prognoses were grim.

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After discharge at four pounds, Stokes had to return to the hospital for emergency surgery for a bowel blockage. Those early setbacks have not restricted her soccer career though. She plays a strong game for team “Lionesses,” England’s national soccer team that plays in the European Union of Football Associations (EUFA) women’s league.  They participated in the Women’s Euros this summer where Stokes promoted her association with Pampers Diapers and a special fundraiser for “nappy pants” designed for premature infants as small as one pound.

Over the past 20 to 30 years, the prognosis for premature infants has improved considerably, according to a comprehensive 2022 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study reviewed the records of 10,877 babies born over a five-year period between 2013 and 2018 and discovered that the expectation for the survival of infants born between 22 and 28 weeks should be increased.

According to Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, neonatologist Krisa Van Meurs, MD, Stanford Medicine emerita professor of pediatrics and a co-author on the study, stated, “When I was in residency in the mid-1980s, babies born at 500 grams [about 1.1 pounds] and 25 weeks didn’t survive; it just didn’t happen. Now we see the borderline of viability dropping to 22 weeks.”

According to the hospital, new developments in premature infant care and clinical support have increased positive outcomes. Neonatal steroids and a surfactant mixture of protein and fat have been found to aid lung development in pre-term babies. Care that simulates a womb-environment and more skin-to-skin contact between mother and babies has also proven to be beneficial. 

More advances like these will continue to improve prognoses and help children born before their due dates return home to loving families.

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