When Jaimie Florio was 19 weeks pregnant, doctors discovered that her baby was tinier than normal. It was like he was 17 weeks not 19. They ran tests to try to understand why, but the results provided no answers. And baby Connor’s development seemed as if it almost stopped.
“His growth was really slowing. They kept telling me he needed to be 500 grams — which is about a pound — to be viable,” Florio, 29 of Danbury, Connecticut told TODAY. “He was nowhere near there. I knew we needed a really good neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).”
Florio received ultrasounds every other day to observe Connor’s development. Doctors wanted her to carry the baby until 24 weeks or longer so he’d have time to grow. At 25 weeks, Florio was admitted to the hospital. A week later doctors noticed the umbilical cord blood flow had reversed and they performed a Cesarean-section to deliver him.
“I was pretty terrified. They checked the size of him and told me he was only going to be 13 or 14 ounces and even that was too small to be viable,” Florio said. “Apparently he was crying but we couldn’t hear it. It was so scary.”
When he was born, the micropreemie weighed only 11 ounces (or 310 grams) and was whisked away to Westchester Medical Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital’s NICU. Later that night, Florio visited Connor, who was hooked up to many tubes and machines. Even though she had received steroids to help his lungs grow, he needed to be on a ventilator to breathe. He was so tiny he required the smallest breathing tube, which looked like a “coffee stirrer.” He had a tube into his umbilical cord to give him nutrition, was under a blue light and had a mask that covered his eye.
“I didn’t really notice how tiny he was. Now, I notice it more when I compare him. He looked like a miniaturized baby,” Florio said. “When he put his hand on my finger, his whole hand barely covered my fingernail.”
While Connor fought to thrive, he faced many challenges. He experienced a small brain bleed and had struggled to breathe. If anything became lodged in his breathing tube, his heart rate soared and he turned white or blue. Then he developed an infection.
“There were ups and downs,” Florio said.
After five months in the NICU, Connor was transferred to Blythedale Children’s Hospital in December 2018. He weighed 6.6 pounds when he arrived.
“It was a big adjustment. We had gotten used to being in the NICU," she said. "We were losing our security blanket."
But at Blythedale, staff prepared Connor to depend less on oxygen and learn to eat without a nasogastric (NG) tube.
“I can’t remember in my 40 year career if a baby this small has ever survived,” said Dr. Dennis Davidson, unit chief for Blythedale’s Infant and Toddler unit. “We didn’t find any babies born in the United States that small who survived.
But Connor is spirited, much like Florio, who was also a preemie born two months early, weighing 2 pounds, 6 ounces. He’d tear out his tubes, for example, and was engaged and stimulated in Blythedale’s infant school, which helps babies improve social and developmental skills.
“Everyone kept saying if he wasn’t so feisty he wouldn’t have made it,” Florio said.
But Davidson said Florio and her husband, John’s, dedication to Connor’s care certainly helped the boy thrive and led to him going home on April 9, weighing a little less than 11 pounds, and nine months after Connor's birth.
“We are really grateful that the parents played such an important role in his development,” Davidson said.
In a few weeks, Connor will no longer need oxygen and he'll be in occupational and physical therapy. He still struggles to eat, but it seems that by the time he's a toddler he'll be the same as his peers. Florio still can't believe how far Conner has come.
"It was exciting to have him at home for the first time," she said.