Power of prayer and support from medical staff has got parents through difficult times since Nicolas was born 17 weeks early, weighing just more than half a kilogram.
DUBAI // Miracle baby Nicholas Sacramento, who weighed just 530 grams when he was born in October, must go back into hospital for hernia surgery and a laser procedure for his eyes.
As small as a ketchup bottle was how his family described Nicholas, who was just 21 centimetres long when he was born.
Now four months old and weighing two kilograms, Nicholas cries for his milk, smiles and recognises his mother, all indications of strong development for a micro-premature baby — an infant who weighs less than 900g at birth.
“My baby was so fragile, he was like glass,” said Suzie.
“I was afraid to touch him because he may snap a bone or I may pinch him.
“Now he smiles when he is full and cries loudly when he is hungry. He is slowly growing.”
Born 17 weeks early, Nicholas was nicknamed “Miracle” during a four-month stay in Zulekha Hospital’s neonatal intensive-care unit (Nicu).
Unlike many micro-premature babies, he has not developed permanent lung or eye damage. Doctors who monitor his growth weekly believe he will grow stronger and should live a healthy, normal life.
But for the whole family, it has been a rough few months.
“I wanted to take away his pain and put him back inside my womb,” Suzie said.
“It broke my heart every time I saw him. I could see he was not OK, he was crying without a sound because of the tubes. He was in the incubator with needles in his hands and feet.
“But I have to be strong because I can see Nicholas is fighting as well.”
Prayer helped them to pull through.
“The doctors said the baby was in a very critical condition and they would not give us false hope,” said the infant’s father Christopher, a digital sales specialist with wellness company Technogym.
“They said our job was to pray, so we gave our full trust to the doctors and nurses.”
Advice from the medical staff helped to keep Suzie calm.
“They taught me to talk and sing every time I came to the Nicu because my voice is the only one baby recognises,” she said.
“I sang any song that popped into my head, even Christmas songs.”
Pre-term birth complications are the leading cause of death among children under five years and were responsible for nearly a million fatalities in 2013, said the World Health Organisation.
Every year about 15 million babies are born pre-term, or before 37 weeks of gestation. A micro preemie is a baby born before 26 weeks’ gestation.
Some extremely premature babies struggle with physical and learning disabilities, impaired vision and hearing.
The expenses can mount up for parents because of long Nicu stays and surgeries.
Even with an increase of Mr Sacramento’s insurance coverage and financial help from his company, he has more than Dh86,000 to pay in ever-rising bills.
“My insurance cover is over, so I have to squeeze as much as I can from my pocket,” he said.
The couple keep a strong front for their older son, Amiel, 8, who said he knew exactly what the baby was thinking.
“Give me a high-five baby,” Amiel instructed his new brother at the family’s home in Al Nahda.
“I use my finger to shake hands with him,” said Amiel.
“I kiss him so much. It’s OK, right baby? Baby said: ‘Yes.’ We use our brains to talk.
“Baby only wants mummy but I tell him we are always here. I go to school, but I tell him I will come back, no problem.”
Micro preemies’ long road to recovery:
DUBAI // “Micro preemies” like Nicholas Sacramento may require several operations to boost eye development, clear infections in digestive tracts and deal with hearing.
Micro premature babies weigh less than 900 grams and are born before 26 weeks gestation. Premature babies are born before 37 weeks gestation.
Children are monitored every week or two weeks. Their head circumference, height, weight, nutrition are checked.
They are also monitored for behavioural problems and a close watch is kept for autism.
Weekly eye check ups, followed by monthly and six-monthly appointments as the child grows are required.
Parents can also monitor the child’s vision at home, said Dr Prasan Rao, specialist ophthalmologist at Medcare Eye Centre.
“For a very small child, take a bright toy, move around with it to see if the child follows it. Place small objects or toys at a distance, check if the child looks straight at it and does not squint. When a child can identify numbers, place a calendar at a distance to see if the child can read.”