The most difficult days of this journey started when Jomary Tavarez was only 20 weeks pregnant.
She had gone in for a routine checkup in April, and doctors discovered that she was already starting to dilate. She was quickly admitted to Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies and put on bed rest.
Because of COVID-19, she spent most days alone in a hospital bed, worried. Her husband could only stay with her on the weekends, when he wasn’t working. She cried so much that she avoided FaceTime calls with family members. She didn’t want to worry them even more.
“It was very lonely and very hard — just thinking about what was going to happen, if the baby was going to survive or not. I would say that was the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do,” said Tavarez last week from the family home in Ocala.
Not even two weeks later, on Mother’s Day, at 6:45 a.m., she woke up with pain and bleeding. She started having contractions. By 9:09 a.m. baby Diana was born — at 22 weeks and 4 days, weighing 12 ounces and just 9 inches long.
Diana, who finally went home with her parents last week after more than six months in the NICU, is the tiniest baby born at Orlando Health to survive.
Doctors, in fact, said Diana was so tiny that they speculate she may have been even more premature.
“So if you take how we think that she was probably less than 22 weeks and you add the fact that she was 12 ounces, I will say that the outcomes of survival were extremely rare for her,” said Dr. Thais Queliz, neonatologist at Winnie Palmer Hospital, in an Orlando Health video.
With advances in neonatology, more tiny babies like Diana survive today than they did a decade ago.
According to a recent review of studies on 22-week-old babies, about a third survive, depending on a variety of factors, including the type of treatment mom and baby received.
“She looks small [in the photos], but nothing compares to seeing her in person,” said Tavarez, 26. “It was the smallest human I’ve ever seen. It was incredible. I couldn’t believe that she was moving and she was alive.”
It had taken doctors 7 minutes to get Diana’s heartbeat up. They told Tavarez that if they didn’t succeed, they’d bring Diana to her so she’d take her last breath on her mom’s chest.
But Diana had the will to live.
“And ever since, she’s been super feisty,” said dad, Federico Peguero.
Doctors first told Tavarez and Peguero that most babies Diana’s size didn’t survive past three days. Diana did. Then they set the goal of surviving for two weeks. Diana passed that milestone, too.
By the end of June, her parents were able to hold her for the first time, swaddled and cradled in a pillow. She was still too small to be cuddled.
And the first time they got to really hold her was a month later.
Tavarez had been discharged from the hospital a few days after giving birth, and family housings like Ronald McDonald House were closed because of the pandemic, so the couple drove back and forth from Ocala to Orlando to visit Diana.
“It was very difficult. There were days where we spent longer on the road than with her,” said Peguero.
But they drew inspiration from Diana.
Even though she had many ups and downs in the neonatal intensive care, she never required surgery.
“It’s been surreal. Since the moment I found that I was pregnant, everything just happened so fast,” said Tavarez. “We’re first-time parents and then you have this special little lady to care for.”
It’s too early to know if Diana’s premature birth will have long-term effects, but so far she’s been reaching the expected milestones. She still has many appointments — about 10 this month, including doctors, physical therapists and occupational therapists. And for a few more weeks, she’ll get help from a small cannula that pumps oxygen into her nose.
“The biggest advice I have for other NICU parents would be just to take it one day at a time,” said Tavarez. “NICU is a roller coaster. It’s very difficult. But we took it one day at time and we set small goals for her to meet. … we tried to focus on the positive and not think so much about the future. Just focus on what was happening at that moment.”
Diana is now 7 pounds and almost 19 inches tall.
“Just in the past two days, she’s gained over 120 grams, and doctors are very happy,” said Peguero.
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