Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Helps Tiniest Babies Fight Biggest Battles

Little Lori Livingstone was so eager to make her debut inlife, she arrived more than three months ahead of schedule. But for the tiny, 1.5pound baby – born on July 8, 2019 at a gestational age of just 24 weeks – thesimple act of breathing was next to impossible.

Lori’s mother, Shakeema Smiley, remembers her mixed emotionsat the time. “When I found out I was having a baby girl, I was extremelyexcited,” she recalls. “My pregnancy was very, very easy – up until thesix-month mark, when my baby girl decided to come.” The new mom’s joy and excitementquickly turned to panic and concern as her daughter struggled to survive.

(Watch now: Shakeema Smiley talks about the progress of herdaughter, Lori, who was born more than three months premature. Video by Alcyenede Almeida Rodrigues.)

Because of her extremely delicate condition, Lori was transferredto the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the Center for Women &Infants, where the speciallytrained staff provides around-the-clock care and neonatal surgery for babies who weigh less than 2.2 pounds and have a variety ofmedical conditions. The 62-bed, Level III NICU is one of the largest such units in South Florida andequipped with the most advanced technology.

Majd Dardas, M.D., neonatologist at South Miami Hospital

“Lori had a long list of problems that we commonly see in extremelypremature babies,” says MajdDardas, M.D., a neonatologistat South Miami Hospital. “She had chronic lung disease, pulmonary hypertension,multiple infections and other conditions.” To aid her breathing, Dr. Dardasgave Lori several courses of steroids and placed her on a ventilator.

Eventually, in March of this year – after eight long months in theNICU and just as the true scope and threat of the coronavirus pandemic wasbecoming fully known – Lori was allowed to go home.

“This was a special time for us,” recalls Mrs. Smiley, “but it wasalso scary because of the coronavirus pandemic.” She says that with Lori’schronic lung disease, they’ve had to be extra careful to make sure Lori doesn’tget exposed her to COVID-19.

Lori Livingstone is now doing “amazingly well,” according to neonatologist Dr. Majd Dardas

But considering her rocky start in life, Lori is doing amazinglywell, according to Dr. Dardas. “We’re very proud of her progress — she’s atrue success story.”

Mrs. Smiley couldn’t be happier with the progress her daughter hasmade since coming home.

“Lori is doing great – she’s come a very long way,” she says. “Lastweek she started crawling so that was a huge milestone for us. She’s beenmeeting with her physical therapist, and a feeding therapist is helping her learnhow to eat by mouth.”

Asked if she has any advice for parents who find themselves in a similar situation, Mrs. Smiley says to remember that it does get better. “In the midst of it, it looks so discouraging and many parents can’t see past it. But my daughter is a living testimony that if you just stick with it, you can get through it.”

Shakeema Smiley with her daughter, Lori Livingstone, who weighed just 1.5 pounds when she was born more than three months premature

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