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Against The Odds, World's Third-Smallest Preemie Heads Home

John Hobbs |
January 21, 2012 | 6:10 a.m. PST


Baby Melinda, ready to go home for the first time. (LAC-USC Medical Center)
Baby Melinda, ready to go home for the first time. (LAC-USC Medical Center)
Weighing just 9.5 ounces at birth—less than a full can of soda—and small enough to fit into her doctor’s palm, Melinda Star Guido faced tough odds when she was born nearly four months early on Aug. 30 last year.

“We didn’t expect her to make it, to be honest,” said Dr. Rangasamy Ramanathan, chief of neonatology at Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Hospital. “In my 30 years here, this is the first time we’ve ever released a baby that weighed less than 300 grams at birth.”

On Friday, Melinda, now a 5-month-old weighing four pounds, 11 ounces—still well below the seven-and-a-half-pounds typical of newborns, as reported in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology—was released from the hospital.

Wearing a tiny pink-and-black ruffled hat and breathing with the help of an oxygen tube, the delicate baby felt the warmth of sunshine on her face for the first time as she was wheeled out to the front steps of the hospital for a press conference.

“She’s really a fighter,” said mother Haydee Ibarra, 22, a former fast-food worker. “She fights with the nurses. She doesn’t like anybody poking her or taking blood out of her, so I knew she was going to be able to fight for her life,” she said.

Hospital officials said Melinda is third smallest baby born in the world and the second smallest in the United States, according to the Global Birth Registry.

Dr. Edward Bell, a University of Iowa pediatrics professor who runs an online registry of the world’s tiniest babies, reported 7,500 babies weighing less than a pound are born in the United States each year. Just 10 percent survive.

“We are cautiously optimistic about how well the baby’s going to do,” explained Ramanathan about baby Melinda’s next steps. “The good news is that she is doing what babies are supposed to do: eat, look around, sleep and gain weight.”

Ramanathan said his team would be keeping tabs on Melinda’s development over the next six years to make sure she was progressing normally. He said he couldn’t predict whether she’d face any cognitive development issues, trouble walking or cerebral palsy later in life, all common effects of very low birth-weight babies.

“The baby’s going home to a loving family,” said Ramanathan. “That is the most important thing. Studies have shown that if the baby goes home to a family that is loving and caring, they seem to do better.”

The five months of round-the-clock treatment at the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center had already cost Ibarra and fiancé Yovani Guido, 24, a restaurant chef, anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million, according to Ramanathan.

The couple declined to comment on whether or not they had insurance to help them pay their hospital bills, instead focusing on the excitement of taking Melinda home to their home in Granada Hills.

They said they had already enlisted the help of Melinda’s grandparents to back them up on caring for the tiny tot. “We’ll do whatever it takes,” said Guido, smiling. “We’ll sleep in shifts, whatever it takes.”

“We’re just glad to be taking her home,” added Ibarra.

Reach Contributor John Hobbs here.

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