Baby gets farewell graduation ceremony after 80 days in the NICU

Gloria Patten weighed just 2 pounds when she was born at 26 weeks.

A baby who weighed just two pounds when she was born at 26 weeks old went home this week after spending 80 days in the neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU).

The baby, Gloria Patten, was discharged from the NICU on Tuesday, two weeks before the due date of her mom, Alana Patten.

"She’s right next to me now. That part has a been a relief," Patten told "Good Morning America." "I feel like we can be a full family now."

Patten, of McAllen, Texas, gave birth to Gloria on Feb. 29, which also happened to be Leap Day. She was just 26 weeks into her pregnancy, her first, when she went into labor and had to have an emergency C-section.

Gloria was quickly whisked away by doctors who kept the 2-pound newborn alive, eventually putting her on a ventilator. Patten was not able to even hold her daughter until nearly two weeks after giving birth.

"She was so tiny and I just remember how painstaking of a process it would be just so I could hold her," said Patten. "We’d have to get the whole team to come over to transfer her from the incubator to my arms."

Patten was discharged from the hospital three days after giving birth, but Gloria would stay in the NICU at the McAllen Medical Center for another nearly 12 weeks.

Gloria's stay at the NICU became more complicated for Patten and her husband, Jon, when the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. and the hospital put restrictions for visitors in place. The couple was only able to visit their daughter one at a time and only during certain hours of the day.

Patten, who stopped working after giving birth, visited Gloria in the NICU more frequently because Jon, who works in home health care, was worried about possibly spreading any germs to his daughter and other babies in the NICU.

"It was all to keep the NICU safe and we understood that, but as brand new parents, it felt like we were a world away from her," said Patten, who said she and her husband also had to pay attention to things like budgeting for gas for the 20-minute drive to and from the hospital. "My husband held her for the first time when she came home."

The NICU nurses who cared for Gloria remember the ways Patten stayed connected to her daughter, even when she could not be with her, including calling the nursing station at the start of each shift to check on Gloria.

"She provided breast milk all throughout the baby’s stay and she visited almost every day," said Enedelia Reyna, one of the registered nurses who cared for Gloria. "And they read to the baby all day, which is very important and was heartwarming to watch, to say the least."

When it came time for Gloria to be discharged from the NICU, Patten said she wanted to celebrate her daughter's incredible achievement of beating the odds. She sewed a graduation cap and gown for Gloria -- because there were none on the market small enough to fit her -- and gave her daughter a strand of pearls to wear.

Reyna and the other nurses and doctors who cared for Gloria lined the hospital hallways to say goodbye.

"This is our first baby who really stayed with us during this new [coronavirus] time," said DeeDee Cantu, a registered nurse and the NICU supervisor. "It was very emotional. There were a lot of tears."

Gloria now weighs 6 pounds and is breathing on her own, though she did go home with oxygen for extra support, according to Patten. She will be monitored closely by doctors and early childhood specialists to make sure she continues to hit milestones as she grows, but is expected to grow and develop normally.

Patten said she and her family plan to stay in touch also with the nurses and doctors who took care of Gloria in the NICU, calling them "part of our family now."

"They loved on her. They knew her," she said. "She wasn’t just a baby in bed 13. She was Gloria."