Courtney Stensrud and her husband call their baby girl nothing short of a miracle.
The now 3-year-old girl was born at just 21 weeks, 4 days after conception and is defying all odds.
"She may be the most premature known survivor to date," according to a case report about her birth published in the journal Pediatrics.
Born weighing less than a pound, this astounding three-year-old is now attending preschool, has no medical conditions and is scoring well on developmental tests.
"If you didn't know that she was so preemie, you would think she's a normal three-year-old," Stensrud said.
In the United States, most doctors agree that 22 weeks of gestation is the lower threshold of viability and even recommend against resuscitating babies born younger than 22 weeks because of their low chance of survival. Typical full-term babies are born between 39 through 40 weeks gestation.
It was a medical emergency that led to the early birth of Courtney's daughter being born in 2014. She went into early labor because of a premature rupture of membranes and a common infection of the placental membrane called chorioamnionitis.
After being told she had to deliver the baby to avoid losing her, she frantically searched for other stories of survival with an infant this young.
"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," said the now 35-year-old mom.
After giving birth to her 15-ounce little girl, Dr. Kaashif Ahmad advised her of the baby's extremely low chance of survival.
"Although I was listening to him, I just felt something inside of me say, 'Just have hope and have faith.' It didn't matter to me that she was 21 weeks and 4 days. I didn't care," Stensrud said.
"As he was talking to me, I just said, 'Will you try?' And he said he would, and three years later, we have our little miracle baby," Stensrud said.
"I don't tell her story a lot, but when I do, people are amazed," she said. "If there's another woman in antepartum that is searching Google, they can find this story and they can find a little bit of hope and a little bit of faith."
When the doctor and his colleagues entered the delivery room, they had not expected to resuscitate the preterm infant.
"But when the mother asked that we do everything for her daughter, despite having no reason to believe the baby would survive, I just made the decision to proceed with a vigorous resuscitation," Ahmad said.
That's when the team placed the infant under the overhead warmer and listened for a heart rate.
"We heard her heart rate, which we were not necessarily expecting," he said.
They immediately placed a breathing tube in her airway to start giving her oxygen.
"She very slowly changed colors from blue to pink, and she actually began to move and began to start breathing within a few minutes," he said.
Those actions, ultimately saved her life.
By the age of two, even smaller in size than her peers, she achieved scores that were average of a child around 20 months old.
"That is what we would expect the average 20-month baby to do," Ahmad said. "She was at that time 24 months, but as we noted in the case, if you take into account how many weeks early she was, she was actually about 20 months, corrected."
She was also very fotunate not to have to deal with health complications including auditory or visual impairments or cerebral palsy.
She is now attending preschool with other children her own age.
"If you didn't know that she was so preemie, you would think she's a normal 3-year-old," Stensrud said. "In her school, she is keeping up with all the other 3-year-olds. She loves playing with other kids. She loves everything I think a normal 3-year-old likes. She loves her baby dolls, she loves books, and she loves make-believe. She loves anything and everything her (older) brother is doing."
The doctor advises caution, however, about generalizing a good outcome for similar situations.
"It is very possible that there have been many 21-week babies resuscitated in other places that did not have positive outcomes, and for that reason, we haven't heard about them," he said. "We reported this case because after this resuscitation she did well, but it may be possible that this is just an extraordinary case and that we shouldn't expect the same from other babies. We have to learn more before we can make any
Around the world, an estimated 15 million babies each year are born before 37 weeks gestation.
Last year, preterm birth affected one in every 10 infants born in the United States, and that number is on the rise from years previous.
The survival rate for infants born between 22-24 weeks' gestation climbed from 30% in 2000 to 26% in 2011 across the United
"However, rates of poor outcomes remain high," Younge said. "Continued research into the causes, preventive measures and outcomes of periviable birth is critical. We need to continue to develop ways to improve outcomes for infants born extremely preterm."
Stensrud is hoping by sharing her daughter's story, it will give hope to those worried about preterm labor.
"From the moment she entered this world, she's just always wanted to live," Stensrud said of her daughter. "Now, she lives life."