Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Helps Tiniest Babies Fight Biggest Battles

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November 17, 2020

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

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

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

Because of her extremely delicate condition, Lori was transferred to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the Center for Women & Infants, where the specially trained staff provides around-the-clock care and neonatal surgery for babies who weigh less than 2.2 pounds and have a variety of medical conditions. The 62-bed, Level III NICU is one of the largest such units in South Florida and equipped 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 extremely premature babies,” says Majd Dardas, M.D., a neonatologist at South Miami Hospital. “She had chronic lung disease, pulmonary hypertension, multiple infections and other conditions.” To aid her breathing, Dr. Dardas gave Lori several courses of steroids and placed her on a ventilator.

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

“This was a special time for us,” recalls Mrs. Smiley, “but it was also scary because of the coronavirus pandemic.” She says that with Lori’s chronic lung disease, they’ve had to be extra careful to make sure Lori doesn’t get 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 amazingly well, according to Dr. Dardas. “We’re very proud of her progress — she’s a true success story.”

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

“Lori is doing great – she’s come a very long way,” she says. “Last week she started crawling so that was a huge milestone for us. She’s been meeting with her physical therapist, and a feeding therapist is helping her learn how 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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