Tiny but Mighty! 1-Pound Micro-Preemie Autumn Defies the Odds
Although Autumn was born at just 1.1 pounds, her mother, Tyler, said, “She came out swinging.” Autumn’s fighting spirit, her mother’s devotion, and a team of Lurie Children’s physicians specializing in neonatal intensive care would help her defy the odds.
Tyler’s water broke when she was only 20 weeks pregnant with Autumn. She was put on bed rest, and in March 2021 delivered her baby girl at 23 weeks—full-term deliveries typically happen at 40 weeks. Autumn was given a 50/50 chance of survival.
Premature babies as tiny as Autumn are often called “micro-preemies.” After her birth, Autumn was placed in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at an area hospital while Tyler recovered from her C-section. It was March 2021, when, due to COVID-19, visitors were still restricted to just parents in the NICU. Tyler recalled being alone with Autumn for the first time. “It was surreal,” she recalled. “I didn’t touch her. Her skin was so fragile. I was scared. I visited her every day.”
A common issue faced by micro-preemies is lungs that aren’t developed, or bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD). Autumn started to develop BPD at one-month of age. BPD is the most common complication that comes with prematurity and severely affects over 20 percent of infants born under 1 kilogram (about 2.2 pounds). Often, these babies require a significant amount of support, including ventilation and feeding assistance, and may develop heart problems related to their lung disease.
Expert Care from Lurie Children’s Specialists
After experiencing continued and worsening challenges with her underdeveloped lungs and extra strain on her heart, Autumn was transferred to Lurie Children’s BPD program in the NICU for specialized care at six months of age. Lurie Children’s is home to the only BPD program in Illinois that is dedicated to the care, investigation and outcomes of infants, like Autumn, with chronic respiratory failure.
“Autumn had been having worsening problems with her breathing and also had developed something called pulmonary hypertension. This occurs when the heart is straining to pump blood through the lungs well,” said neonatologist Megan Lagoski, MD, Director of the BPD Program at Lurie Children's. “Autumn would have episodes where her heart rate and her oxygen levels would drop, and they would come back slowly. Our BPD specialists were just the right professionals to help treat her condition.”
Tyler knew she and her daughter were in good hands. “Coming to Lurie Children’s, where there are so many specialists, they were able to teach me specifically about my baby’s conditions,” she said. “Autumn’s success story shows what can happen when you have a team of experts.”
A Hospital Family
As the medical specialists did their job, Tyler worked hard at her job—being a mom—even under trying circumstances.
“It was an overwhelming experience,” Tyler said of her daughter’s long hospital stay, which included a medically-induced coma. “Autumn did music therapy and physical therapy. I played music for her all day. I’d say, ‘Autumn, no matter what, I’ll always be here. If you’re too tired to move on, it’s OK to let go. But if you want to keep fighting this good fight, I’ll fight with you.’ She woke up another day, smiling, laughing, thriving, defeating the odds.”
Beyond the nurses and physicians treating her daughter, Tyler said she felt love and support from all the hospital staff she encountered at Lurie Children’s. “The cleaning crew, respiratory therapists, security team, cafeteria workers, Child Life Specialists – they all came in with a smile, spoke to my baby and tried to make our experience the best possible.”
“They help us, and we help them,” she said. “I’ve met so many people here who are our family. I’ve made lifelong friendships with other NICU parents. Autumn has met so many people along this journey who love her. They are her family, and she loves them, too.”
Autumn Goes Home, Experiences “Firsts”
After 524 days in the hospital, on August 17, 2022, Autumn went home for the first time. As a crowd of employees and news cameras watched her leave the hospital, they saw her feel the sun and wind on her face for the first time.
For now, she’ll rely on a feeding tube, a tracheostomy (breathing) tube, and a ventilator. According to Dr. Lagoski, most patients come off the ventilator between the ages of three and five, and then the tracheostomy tube is removed later.
Tyler said she’s has been preparing for her daughter to come home all the while she’s been in the hospital.
“We've learned so much,” she said, and hopes she can pass on advice and support to other parents with children in the NICU who may experience some of what she has over the last 500 days. “My advice to NICU parents: Hold your baby, talk to your baby, don’t be afraid to speak up for your baby. Learn your child so you are the expert.”
As Autumn begins her life outside the hospital, Tyler reflected on the time leading up to her daughter’s discharge. “Through the majority of the 500 days at Lurie Children’s, we’ve faced our share of difficulties and I’ve been practicing turning negatives into positives,” she said. “I’m looking forward to going home and starting our life together there!”