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Hospital throws celebration for 'miracle’ premature baby discharged from NICU after 128 days

"Her future looks bright."
/ Source: TODAY

A "miracle" baby born premature at 22 weeks was discharged from the hospital after 128 days in a sweet graduation ceremony.

Baby Zahraliz Francis Angueira was the size of a soda can when she was born in February 2023 at Saint Francis Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut. Born weighing 12.4 ounces, Zahraliz is the smallest-ever baby born at the hospital.

In a June 29 Facebook video, staff said goodbye to Zahraliz with cheers and pink balloons.

Zahraliz's mother, Neyshaliz Angueira of Waterbury, was admitted to St. Francis on February 18 while in preterm labor. She was diagnosed with a respiratory virus and transferred to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

Angueira, 19, tells TODAY.com that her pregnancy felt "off" from the beginning.

"I had swollen legs, no sensation in my feet, abdominal pain and my lower back hurt, which I thought was due to a recent car accident," she says.

Doctors were monitoring Angueira's shortened cervix, which, according to the Mayo Clinic, increases the risk of preterm labor and premature birth.

Staff at Saint Francis Hospital in Connecticut threw a June 29 celebration to discharge their smallest premature baby to date.
Staff at Saint Francis Hospital in Connecticut threw a June 29 celebration to discharge their smallest premature baby to date.Courtesy Saint Francis Hospital

Angueira was admitted to a local hospital where doctors said she was three centimeters dilated. The outlook for her baby was dim. However, Angueira was assured when she learned that Saint Francis Hospital would admit her into its level three neonatal intensive care unit (NICU),

"When I was 15, I got a tattoo of the name Francis," Angueira says, adding that while Frances is a family name, "I always had no idea why I spelled it differently on my tattoo — I now understand that it was for my miracle workers."

Angueira gave birth on February 22, four months early.

 Zahraliz Francis Angueira, who was born premature, was discharged from Saint Francis Hospital in Connecticut after a 128-day stay.
Zahraliz Francis Angueira, who was born premature, was discharged from Saint Francis Hospital in Connecticut after a 128-day stay. Courtesy Saint Francis Hospital

"I practically coughed her out. It was the easiest birth ever," she says.

Mayo Clinic says babies born before the 37th week of pregnancy are premature. Under the organization's classification, Zahraliz was "extremely preterm," being born before the 28th week of pregnancy. Short-term medical concerns for premature babies include heart or breathing problems while learning, vision or hearing difficulties, says Mayo.

The hospital refers to Zahraliz a "micro-preemie" — and a “miracle."

Dr. Jose Arias-Camison, the NICU director at Saint Francis Hospital in Connecticut (L), helped care for premature baby Zahraliz, born to Neyshaliz Angueira (R).
Dr. Jose Arias-Camison, the NICU director at Saint Francis Hospital in Connecticut (L), helped care for premature baby Zahraliz, born to Neyshaliz Angueira (R). Courtesy Saint Francis Hospital

"We try our best but usually these babies don't make it out of the delivery room and into the NICU," Dr. Jose Arias-Camison, the NICU director at Saint Francis Hospital, tells TODAY.com. "The first three to five days are critical for these infants and difficult for their families."

Arias-Camison recalls Zahraliz's birth condition: "She was palm-sized with translucent skin and eyes that were fused shut."

The doctor says Zahraliz developed bronchial dysplasia, a lung condition in newborns, which, says the National Institutes of Health, is usually diagnosed in babies born at least 10 weeks early and who weigh less than 2 pounds.

"Developmentally, we will monitor her very closely but her future looks bright," says Arias-Camison. "She's doing better than we ever thought."

By June 29, Zahraliz had grown to 7 pounds, 5 ounces and was released from the hospital after 128 days — two days after her original due date.

Joseph Gorman and Neyshaliz Angueira's baby Zahraliz, who was born premature at a Connecticut hospital.
Joseph Gorman and Neyshaliz Angueira's baby Zahraliz, who was born premature at a Connecticut hospital.Courtesy Saint Francis Hospital

Angueira says her faith and the prayers of her community members kept her going throughout her journey.

"My baby came into this world ready to make an impact," she says. "I'm very grateful."