Doctors and nurses will wave goodbye to Melinda Star Guido on Friday, a premature baby that weighed only 9-and-a-half ounces at birth. After almost five months, the pink and purple room that Melinda’s 22-year-old mother, Haydee Ibarra, decorated with ladybugs and flowers will no longer be empty.
“We can settle her crib, her clothes, everything,” she said. “She’ll be ready to go home.”
According to Ibarra, she’s still tiny but getting stronger each day. At 4-and-a-half pounds, little Melinda packs a strong personality. “She likes to play around a lot, she likes to be goofy. She likes to smile, laugh, she's a really lovable person,” Ibarra said.
Though she is now healthy enough to be discharged, it is too early to know how she will fare developmentally and physically. Doctors plan to monitor her for the next six years.
Melinda was born premature at 24 weeks in August at the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. She is the world's third smallest baby and the second smallest in the U.S.
Most babies this small don't survive even with advanced medical care. About 7,500 babies are born each year in the United States weighing less than 1 pound, and about 10 percent survive. A study published in the journal Pediatrics in 2010 found that many survivors have ongoing health and learning concerns. Most also remain short and underweight for their age.
There are some rare success stories. The smallest surviving baby born weighing 9.2 ounces is now a healthy 7-year-old and another who weighed 9.9 ounces at birth is an honors college student studying psychology, according to doctors at Loyola University Medical Center in Illinois where the girls were born.
But it’s likely Guido may need special care throughout her life because of potential cognitive and physical problems. At a press conference, doctors estimated her hospital bill at close to a million dollars, causing some people to wonder whether it makes sense to save such tiny babies just because the medical technology exists.
"Fifty-seven years ago we didn’t take care of Down Syndrome babies," pointed out USC Medical Center neonatologist, Dr. Rangasamy Ramanathan. "Now we treat them normally. We spend a lot of money on people who are 80, 90, 100 years old…and nobody questions that part of it."
Melinda went through a few health issues soon after birth, including treatment for an eye disorder common in premature babies and surgery to close an artery. Ibarra said Melinda still has difficulties breathing but is otherwise healthy. Ibarra is hopeful her baby will lead a normal life.
“At the beginning, before she was born, they said she wouldn't be able to survive,” Ibarra recalled. “But so far she has proved everybody wrong. I hope that she does prove everybody wrong and that she's going to be okay, like any other kid.”