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‘Grace is a little champ’: Va. woman born prematurely gives birth to micro-preemie

A Hanover woman born 10 weeks early is now watching as her daughter fights in the NICU after she was born at only 24 weeks.
Published: Mar. 24, 2022 at 5:12 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 24, 2022 at 5:21 PM EDT
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HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WWBT) - A Hanover woman born 10 weeks early is now watching as her daughter fights in the NICU after she was born at only 24 weeks.

It’s a story of perseverance for Megan and Grace Baker, but thankfully for the latter, advancements in healthcare have made the chances for survival better.

“That’s certainly the most remarkable thing, that we were able to give Megan a baby that couldn’t have survived at the time she was born,” said Dr. Ann Heerens, Neonatologist and Medical Director at Pediatrix Neonatology of Virginia.

Currently, Grace Baker is in the NICU at St. Mary’s Hospital in Henrico. Her mother, Megan, said her surprise arrival on Jan. 14 (16 weeks early) was not the only thing Grace had in store for the family.

“The unexpected surprise is Grace is a little champ,” Megan said.

Weighing just under two pounds at birth, Grace’s care team at the hospital has nicknamed her their “little feisty one.”

“She likes to whack the nurses when she’s not happy,” Megan said. “That’s her feisty mentality. She has literally tried to get the CPAP off; I don’t know how many times.”

It’s humbling for Megan to see that personality in her daughter, given what she went through.

“I was critical at 30 weeks, so to tell me I’ve got an even more critical baby, I’m [thinking] something negative is going to happen,” Megan said.

Megan, who will celebrate her 24th birthday on Saturday, often looks at photos from her birth, comparing them to her daughter’s.

Megan Baker (left) was born 10 weeks early in March 1998. Her daughter, Grace (right) was born...
Megan Baker (left) was born 10 weeks early in March 1998. Her daughter, Grace (right) was born 16 weeks early in January 2022.(Megan Baker)

“If you look at the pacifier on me, it covered the edge of my cheeks, but it still fit,” Megan said. “Grace’s, I believe, is the little infant size paci, and it’s practically covering all the way up to her nose.”

However, much has changed in the 24 years since Megan was born. For Grace’s doctor, she said the conversations happening now are vastly different from back then.

“When Megan was born, we were not even trying to save babies as early as Grace,” Heerens said. “She would not have been given a chance.”

According to Heerens, advancements in technology and experience, among other things, have made the difference.

“Not only are we saving more babies at younger ages, but their outcomes, how they do long-term, has also really improved,” Heerens said.

However, there’s still much work to be done.

“About 8% of babies born in the US every year are born prematurely,” Heerens said.

A March of Dimes report gives Virginia a C+ when it comes to preterm births. Roughly 9.5% of Virginia babies are born prematurely.

“It’s disappointing for sure,” Heerens said. “The causes of prematurity, there’s just so many of them, and trying to untangle that can be difficult.”

Meanwhile, the Bakers continue their focus on what the future holds for Grace.

“The way to get yourself out of the hospital if you’re a premature baby is to breathe on your own, to keep yourself warm, and then to eat all your bottles and gain weight,” Heerens said.

For Grace, she’s completed two out of the three requirements, having been taken off oxygen on March 19.

“She’s a fighter,” Megan said.

Megan and her husband are also looking forward to that moment of bringing Grace home.

“I look at somebody this tiny, and I can’t believe how much she looks like me already,” Megan said.

According to Heerens, it is not common for women born prematurely to have premature babies of their own, but it’s possible.

Grace could go home by mid-late April if all goes according to plan.

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