The term ‘premature labour’ is terrifying to hear at any time during pregnancy, but at just 21 weeks a positive outcome is extremely unlikely.
But a Texas family is proving that this is not always the case. Doctors prepared Courtney Stensrud for the worst when her baby girl was born at just 21 weeks and weighing just over 400g. So tiny, her feet were no bigger than her mother’s thumbs.
“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,” the stay-at-home mom, now 35, tells CNN.
That was three years ago. Today, Courtney’s teeny-tiny daughter is a thriving, happy and healthy three-year-old just like most other kids her age.
‘I just absolutely thought she could survive’
Courtney experienced premature rupture of membranes and an infection of the placenta and amniotic fluid. She went into labour in hospital at an estimated 21 weeks and four days gestation.
Neonatologist, Dr Kaashif Ahmad, advised her that it was unlikely her baby would survive, but Courtney knew she had to try. Speaking to TODAY, Courtney says:
“As he was basically telling me there was nothing they could do, I said, ‘Will you try?’
“But when I was holding a live baby in my arms, I just absolutely thought she could survive. I felt it in my heart.”
A little miracle
Dr Ahmad agreed to help and proceeded with a resuscitation, giving the baby girl a breathing tube and placing her under a heater.
“From that point, she gradually responded. She turned pink. Within a few minutes, she began to make efforts to breathe and then she began to move,” Dr Ahmad tells TODAY.
She was then taken to intensive care and spent four months in hospital, before finally being discharged three days before her original due date.
According to Dr Ahmad’s case published in the journal, Pediatrics, she may now be “the most premature known survivor to date”.
A positive message at a difficult time
Of course positive outcomes for extremely premature babies are not always the case. Mum Central readers last month shared the heartbreak when Perth premature baby Austin Buttle (pictured above), sadly lost his battle after being born at just 23 weeks.
Dr Ahmad warns that even when babies born extremely early survive, they will face incredible obstacles. Not only that, but they may face severe health problems, including physical and mental disabilities, for the rest of their lives.
But Courtney wants to give a positive message to parents facing the same awful decision that she did.
“The reason I’m doing these interviews — it’s not for me, it’s not for my daughter. It’s for that mother in antepartum who is frantically searching online — that she will have a little bit of hope and faith that she can have the same outcome,” she says.
Details of Courtney’s daughter’s miraculous survival come as researchers reveal how delayed cord clamping can save the lives of 100,000 premmie babies each year.