Abu Dhabi: It is two months since Baby Krista arrived home, and her parents are finally breathing easy.
The eight-month-old spent 200 days in the hospital after she was born, arriving at just 23 weeks gestation and weighing less than 500 grams.
“It was definitely one of the hardest times we have faced as a family. We visited her at the hospital every day, never knowing whether she would survive. It is only now, as we watch her smile and raring to stand, that we are beginning to accept that she is home with us and happy,” Rabie Riman, 35, Krista’s father, told Gulf News.
“In fact, we brought her home after the coronavirus restrictions were implemented, and we have been able to spend this time settling in as a family,” he added.
Riman is a Lebanese public relations manager based in Dubai, and he clearly remembers the set of events that set off his second child’s arrival.
“My wife, Hiam Bou Jaber, 35, had just been headed to the doctor for a routine appointment when her water broke. I was at work in Abu Dhabi, and so my brother rushed her to the hospital – the Medcare Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Dubai,” Riman remembered.
“Like the first pregnancy, this second had been just as smooth, so we never expected such complications to occur,” he said.
For the next two weeks, Bou Jaber stayed at the hospital as she was monitored. Having lost most of the amniotic fluid, the medical team worked to ensure Baby Krista remained comfortable in-utero.
But when Bou Jaber. developed labour pains two weeks later, it was time for Krista to be delivered.
“When she was born through a normal delivery, Krista was not breathing. She was immediately rushed to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for medical attention,” Riman said.
The NICU then became her home for the next six months, as doctors and nurses worked to wean her off the ventilation and help her other organs to develop. Riman remembers that there were so many tubes attached to her tiny body, which he says was the size of an open palm.
Meanwhile, Rabih and Bou Jaber juggled care of their firstborn – one-year-old Kaytlin – with regular visits to the hospital.
“We were worried about bringing her back home before she was able to breathe fully on her own, especially as it meant that we would have to monitor her blood oxygen saturation levels closely or risk damage to her brain,” Riman said.
Babies born prematurely face a range of complications because their organs and organ systems are not fully formed at the time of birth, ranging from respiratory issues to cardiac and neurological concerns.
At the time of her birth, Krista was extremely pre-term, having been born before 25 weeks’ gestations. According to the United States’ Centres of Disease Control, more than half of all babies born at 23 weeks do not survive.
“It felt like a miracle when we learnt in March that she was healthy enough to survive outside the hospital,” Riman said.
The couple bought an oximeter to keep an eye on Krista’s oxygen levels, and then brought her home. It was a surprise for Kaytlin: she had not known until then that she had a sibling.
“She was too small to understand that she had a sister, so of course the first few weeks were challenging. But she is slowly learning to live with a sibling. On the other hand, Kaytlin is the centre of Krista’s world, and it is obvious she cannot wait to join her older sister in her play,” Riman said.
Krista is now a healthy eight kilograms, and it is hard to tell that she was born so very premature.
Dr Marija Lukavac, specialist neonatologist at Medcare, explained that Baby Krista had been born with no signs of life.
“She was not breathing and did not have a heartbeat. Babies born without these signs usually do not do well, or even survive,” Dr Lukavac said.
Krista was resuscitated, and then placed on artificial ventilation so that her lungs could continue to develop.
“We always keep a close eye on the brain, and in Krista’s case, her brain remained intact and developed well,” Dr Lukavac said.
In addition, Krista was fed intravenously and slowly introduced to oral feeding.
“She is doing absolutely great right now. A multispecialty team of doctors will also continue following up with her over the next few years,” the doctor said.
“We are so very grateful for the level of medical care Krista and my wife received at Medcare, and extremely thankful for the UAE’s robust healthcare system,” Riman said.
Stories of survival
The world’s smallest known surviving baby was also born at about 23 weeks in San Diego. She was only 245 grams at the time of her birth in December 2018, and had to stay in the NICU for five months.
Gulf News recently reported on another family whose baby had been born weighing just 460 grams. Baby Leia was also born to a Lebanese father, although her mother was Indian, and she spent 97 days in hospital before being discharged.