'She's a fighter': joy as baby who weighed 250g at birth is released after six months in Abu Dhabi hospital

Baby Latifa was born 23 weeks into her mother's pregnancy and spent 177 days in care

Ahmed Huseein Salem, his wife Fatema Omar and baby Latifa. The infant was discharged from hospital this week. Courtesy: NMC Health
Ahmed Huseein Salem, his wife Fatema Omar and baby Latifa. The infant was discharged from hospital this week. Courtesy: NMC Health

A premature baby who weighed just 250 grams when she was born, was discharged from an Abu Dhabi hospital after 177 days in care.

Baby Latifa is believed to be the smallest child on record to survive in the UAE, being born only 23 weeks and a day into her mother's pregnancy.

Emirati parents Ahmed Huseein Salem and Fatema Omar feared for her life after doctors at NMC Royal Hospital told them their baby had only hours to live.

Latifa most likely survived and thrived as she did because she is a fighter and has a great family who stayed by her side

Michael Davis, NMC Healthcare

But she survived and was discharged this week – nearly six months old and now weighing 3.825kg.

Mrs Omar lost her first baby to miscarriage and stayed in regular contact with her gynaecologist during her second pregnancy to avoid any issues.

But after only 23 weeks and a day she felt pain and went into preterm labour.

"It was the scariest day of my life. I just felt very uncomfortable and I feared I had lost my second pregnancy also,” she said.

Latifa weighed as much as a large apple when she was born. She was so small, she could "fit in the palm of the hands of her care team," her doctors said.

A doctor taking care of baby Latifa in the neonatal intensive care unit. Courtesy: NMC Health
A doctor taking care of baby Latifa in the neonatal intensive care unit. Courtesy: NMC Health

The baby required a team of doctors to work on her case.

“She suffered from several complications such as respiratory distress, sepsis, anaemia, renal failure, hearing issues and chronic lung disease, among many others,” said Dr Wilson Lopez, consultant and head neonatologist at the hospital, who led the team fighting for the baby's life.

Latifa's parents were not even allowed to hold her because she was so fragile and susceptible to infections.

“The doctors allowed us to hold the baby for an hour after two months of her birth. We used to visit the hospital daily, sit for an hour or more, hold her and take care of her,” Mr Salem said.

"My wife used to feed her during this time. Doctors also helped us to learn kangaroo mother care.”

Kangaroo mother care refers to care of preterm or low birthweight infants. Mothers or fathers hold their babies in skin-to-skin contact.

Baby Latifa on life support system at the hospital. Courtesy: NMC Health
Baby Latifa on life support system at the hospital. Courtesy: NMC Health

Research proves this helps to regulate the infant’s heartbeat and breathing, leading to a higher chance of survival.

Babies who experience kangaroo care are also more likely to gain weight, breastfeed, cry less, and spend more time in deep sleep.

A miracle baby

According to data from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half of all babies born at 23 weeks do not survive.

The world's smallest surviving premature baby was born at a hospital in San Diego in 2018, according to the Tiniest Babies Registry maintained by the University of Iowa in the US.

She weighed 245 grams but, unlike Latifa, had no underlying health conditions.

Michael Davis, the chief executive of NMC Healthcare, praised the efforts of his team and Latifa's parents.

“Latifa most likely survived and thrived as she did because she is a fighter and has a great family who stayed by her side, along with good genes and some good luck," he said.

"She also happened to be born at the right place. A successful birth of 250 grams is extremely rare.

"Latifa had to deal with the usual catastrophic issues that can set a baby back or lead to death.

"But she was really a rarity, a very special baby and I am extremely pleased at the outcome and very grateful to our amazing staff.”

Latifa’s doctors believe that the little girl's parents played a huge part in her recovery.

“I think it was a combination of everything, especially her parents being there all the time. They are part of the team,” Dr Lopez said.

"If they weren’t involved, I don’t think she would have thrived the same way.”

Updated: April 14, 2021 05:03 PM

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