This tiny tot was once small enough to wear his mom’s wedding ring around his wrist after arriving at just 23 weeks.
It was touch and go for CJ Swinney, who weighed a tiny 1 pound and 3 ounces (approx. 539 g) when he was born last year.
His mom, Crystal Swinney, 26, was told there was only a 17 percent chance of survival when she went into labor at 23 weeks and one day.
After undergoing three major operations and spending 139 days in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), CJ is now a thriving 16-month old.
“My husband Cody and I were ecstatic when I found out I was pregnant after three years of trying,” Crystal shared. “I had a really normal pregnancy and there wasn’t anything to worry about.
“Until I was woke up by intense cramping at 22 weeks and five days—I knew something wasn’t right!”
Crystal experienced shooting pain “every hour on the hour from midnight until 5am,” she said. She did a search online “what does labor feel like,” and what she experienced matched those exact symptoms.
Although reluctant to go to the hospital at first, her husband, Cody, a former Marine, insisted they go, just to be safe. Soon, the pains became more frequent, and Crystal was glad she went.
At the hospital, she was hooked up to machines, her tests came back normal, and she was almost sent home, “until they did a cervical check,” she recalled.
Crystal’s nightmare became a reality as the nurse’s face “dropped” when she could see the sac. Crystal was given steroids and put on a magnesium drip whilst lying face down and legs up for a further three days.
Crystal recalled searching online for 23-week premature baby success stories but failed to find one.
“I remember thinking ‘this can’t be happening’ and then I blacked out,” she said. “It is all a blur as I couldn’t register what was going on.
“I was praying for him to stay in for as long as he could as a baby isn’t viable before 24 weeks however he couldn’t wait any longer.”
Doctors told her there was only a 17 percent chance the baby would survive, she said, and a 50 percent chance the baby would be severely disabled.
“I was so thankful to hear him gasp for air before he was rushed into NICU,” she added. “The first-time parents were able to see their baby after five hours which felt like a ‘lifetime.’”
She recalled having “no hope” and thought she was going to lose her tiny baby. She said: “It was the scariest time of my life and I will admit I wasn’t feeling positive about his future.
“He was a dot and his limbs were so small I was able to put my wedding rings on his wrist like a bracelet.
“It seemed like there was one thing after another—at four days, CJ suffered a bleed on both sides of his brain, but thankfully it resolved on its own after four weeks.
“I held him for the first time after five days and I was terrified—he was lighter than a feather!”
CJ was diagnosed with chronic lung disease from birth as his lungs had only half developed. At 4 weeks old, the left one had collapsed and he had multiple ventilators to help him.
Two weeks later, his stomach turned black, but doctors couldn’t find the cause until they removed a hernia and discovered necrotising enterocolitis—a condition that causes the intestines to become inflamed and die.
Crystal shared: “It was heartbreaking seeing my tiny baby fighting for his life.
“But I suddenly knew he was going to pull through and I put all my faith into him when his stomach went black then normal again without any help from the doctors.
“They didn’t know what was wrong but then they discovered stool in his scrotum and his bowel had perforated.”
CJ underwent emergency surgery and had a temporary stoma fitted. That wasn’t the only surgery he had; he also had keyhole surgery to fix a hole in his heart at 14 weeks old.
He also had injections in his eyes, as he developed retinopathy of prematurity (ROP)—a potentially blinding disease—at 3 months old.
“He went strength to strength within a week after the surgery to fix his heart,” Crystal said. “But throughout his time in NICU, he would take one step forward and five backwards.
“I became used to the horrible beeping noises that would occur when something was wrong.
“We were about to go home and then on the day, I spotted blood in his stool and he was diagnosed with salmonella which set us back two weeks.
“By that point, we knew he would be ok as he had already been through so much.”
CJ was sent home without any medication and is now reaching the milestones a 1-year-old should achieve. However, he is still small and wears clothing for 6-month-olds. Crystal is sharing his story to give parents hope.
“I didn’t have a normal baby experience but at least I have had more time with my baby outside of the womb,” she said. “I have watched him grow and develop from a fetus to a tiny exciting baby.
“I can’t praise Cody enough as he was my rock and so positive throughout.
“We love being CJ’s parents and he makes us smile every day.”
Adds Crystal: “We want other parents to know that there will be many sleepless nights but the tiny babies are stronger than you think.”
Caters News contributed to this report.