Melinda Star Guido was supposed to be born today. Instead, she came into the world 16 weeks early, one of the smallest premature babies ever to beat overwhelming odds and survive.
The tiny fighter, only a little more than half a pound and the size of her doctor's hand at birth, now weighs 4 pounds. Doctors gave her no more than a 2 percent chance of survival, but she is thriving and could go home on New Year's Day.
"Everybody thought that she wasn't gonna make it at all," her grateful mother, Haydee Ibarra, 22, told KABC in Los Angeles Thursday. "They doubted her, but she had made it through a lot. She's been through a lot and so far she's doing great
"This is truly a miracle baby," Dr. Rangasamy Ramanathan, neonatologist at the L.A. County/University of Southern California Medical Centre, said of Melinda, believed to be the third smallest baby to survive in the world. "Nobody thought this baby was going to survive."
Ibarra had high blood pressure during her pregnancy and had previously suffered a stillbirth. She and her husband, Yovani Guido, knew the baby was extremely vulnerable but pleaded with doctors to do everything they could to keep Melinda alive.
"They don't have any other child," said Ramanathan. "So they said, 'Please try whatever you can,' so that's how we started on Day One."
After Melinda's delivery by C-section, she began her life in an incubator at the neonatal intensive care unit at USC Medical Centre, receiving food through a tube and breathing with the aid of a machine. Ibarra, visiting almost daily, would grip her finger through the portholes and sleep by her bedside.
Now, Melinda can breathe on her own and her mom can lift her out of the incubator and cuddle her. Melinda has overcome an eye disorder and survived surgery to close an artery.
"I've got to give everything to the doctors, to the team, especially the nurses, because they were the most there," said Guido at a news conference.
Melinda's parents know their baby now.
"She's a really happy person," said Ibarra.
She says the ordeal has been testing, and required "faith, hope, a lot of effort -- but it's all worth it."
It's not over yet. Dr. Sessions Cole, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington in St. Louis and director of the Division of Newborn Medicine, said there is a long road ahead for babies born extremely prematurely.
"For babies like Melinda, the fact she survived and is likely to go home is a tremendous accomplishment for the doctors and nurses who cared for her and for her family," he said.
Still, Cole added, problems can show up for several years after the preemies leave the hospital.
"The good news is that for babies who survive, one-quarter to one-third will emerge at 3 to 5 years of age as doing well," Cole said.
Those lucky ones will show brain development close to normal. Another third will have mild disabilities, like clumsiness or difficulty in saying words, Cole said. The remaining third will have "significant brain development issues" and could suffer seizures or be blind, deaf or disabled by cerebral palsy.
Baby girls tend to do better, for reasons that medical science doesn't really understand, he said.
The Supreme Court generally considers a fetus viable at 24 weeks, but Cole said gestational age is not an exact science. In general, he said, many babies born at 27 to 28 weeks do well, and the vast majority of those born at 30 to 32 weeks thrive.
Baby Melinda is among those 1 percent to 1.5 percent of babies in the very highest-risk category.
Her parents hoped to have her home for Christmas, but she's not ready yet: She still has to get stronger and learn to bottle-feed. If all goes well, Melinda could join three other babies born around the world this year weighing less than a pound who made it out of the hospital to start growing up with their families.
"They help us define the boundaries of hope," said Cole. "Every baby deserves a 100 percent chance to survive."