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NUMC staff helps 'miracle' baby fight for life

Doctors performed an emergency C-section on Jennifer Pena 3 months ago after noticing her baby's irregular heartbeat and slow growth. Her daughter was born 13 weeks prematurely and weighed less than a pound and a half.

Jennifer Pena says her daughter, Hannah Rodriguez, born at 1 pound, 4 ounces, at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, is a fighter. (Credit: Newsday / Raychel Brightman)

Three months ago, Hannah Rodriguez  could fit in the palm of her mother’s hand.  

She was born 13 weeks prematurely and weighed just 1 pound, 4 ounces — the smallest baby ever delivered at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, officials said. Thirty-seven to 40 weeks is a full-term delivery.

Her doctors called her a miracle.

“This small, most babies don’t make it,” Dr. John Riggs, chairman of NUMC’s obstetrics and gynecologist department, said Monday at a news conference. 

Hannah's mother, Jennifer Pena, 27, of Freeport, brought her home for the first time earlier this month. She’s still small for her age, weighing about 5 pounds, 5 ounces, but Dr. Krishan Kumar, the hospital’s chair of pediatrics, said she’s “closing the gap.”

Doctors performed an emergency cesarean section on Pena on July 11 after noticing Hannah’s irregular heartbeat and that she was barely growing, Riggs said. She was delivered at 27 weeks, but weighed about as much as a typical 22-week-old en utero.  

After the procedure, Pena recalled watching Hannah in her bassinet, seeing the ribs that jutted from her newborn’s body and watching her chest heave up and down with each heartbeat.

“I just cried and cried,” Pena said. “I was so scared.”

Doctors warned her that the odds were stacked against the newborn, but Pena said she never lost faith. Hannah remained in the neonatal intensive care unit for the next few months, where she was fed through an IV, given blood transfusions and antibiotics, and breathed with help from a respirator.

Pena said she was so grateful to the hospital staff members, who seemed to care for baby Hannah as much as she did.

“I’m in love with her and everybody here,” Pena said at the news conference.

With round-the-clock care, Hannah began to breathe unassisted and slowly gained weight.

“It is such a proud moment for us, as the pediatric department of the hospital,” Kumar said. “This could not have been done without our team of dedicated doctors and nurses.”

On Monday, the medical staff that cared for the mother and daughter, along with Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, gathered at NUMC to celebrate Hannah. They called her a “fighter” and talked about how lucky she’d been, while the girl dozed in her mother’s arms wearing a onesie whose sleeves were still far too long for the girl.

“It’s a miracle girl. She was born like this,” Kumar said, opening his palm, “And now look at her size.”

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