Human Interest

‘You could hold her with one hand’: Preemie born smaller than a ruler is now home

abortion, preemie, born alive, ireland, premature

The neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in Pomona, New Jersey-based AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center’s (ARMC) Center for Childbirth bade farewell to one of its smallest residents. After spending 35 weeks under the care of the NICU’s nurses and physicians, preemie Zavannah Rodriguez finally went home to her family. 

Zavannah was born on July 29th at just 23 weeks’ gestation, weighing in at a mere 1 pound and 2 ounces, making her the second most premature baby born at the medical center. Although just over halfway to full term, a preborn baby of Zavannah’s gestational age  is remarkable in her development, able to hear noises outside the womb, suck her thumb, swallow, and kick. Still, preemies born that early require significant medical support.

Zavannah in particular had difficulty learning to breathe, and neonatologist Dr. Jennifer Tioseco described her condition to “Her lungs, heart, eyes and other organs and systems were not ready for her to live outside her mother’s womb.” 

Although 24 weeks was once considered “viability,” as medicine and medical technology advances, babies are able to survive at earlier and earlier ages. “It is rare though we are actually getting better across the country and taking care of babies as young as this,” neonatologist Dr. Ben Asiegbu added. “Most times they end up with lots of complications. But look at [Zavannah] today. She looks absolutely fine.”

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But as Dr. Tioseco said, “Zavannah did the hard work.” And Zavannah’s mom Jenny Rodriguez agrees.

“She fought,” Rodriguez said. “She fought to be here with us.”

And indeed, Rodriguez called Zavannah her “miracle baby,” according to NBC Philadelphia, and she spoke of how much hope she had for her daughter despite the uphill battle she faced. “She was smaller than a ruler,” Rodriguez said. “Eleven inches. Really, you could hold her with one hand.”

Zavannah now weighs 6 pounds, 2 ounces and is 17 inches long, and she went home on November 25th – Rodriguez’s original due date. 

Jenny Rodriguez was no stranger to the NICU, having delivered her son three months early several years prior. While the experience is never a cakewalk, Jenny felt that ARMC did a great job taking care of Zavannah these last several months. “The NICU team makes families feel so comfortable and that everything is going to be okay,” she said. “I’m thankful for the doctors, nurses and the whole staff in the NICU and throughout AtlantiCare for providing such a great experience. You see their passion and the love they have for all these little babies in the NICU. They make sure you do not lose hope and reassure you that things are going to be okay. I knew they would do everything they could to make sure Zavannah survived.” 

“Caring for Zavannah and Jenny this year – and Jenny and Josiah four years ago – has been such a privilege for our team,” Dr. Tioseco said. “We were thrilled to see Josiah laughing and enjoying activities at our NICU reunion earlier this year. He has grown so much. He and Zavannah, and all of our NICU babies and graduates, inspire us.”

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