Born at just 23 weeks old, weighing about one pound, and with her eyesight in jeopardy, the odds against Brianna Gomez were stacked high, and with the help of modern medicine, those odds are now falling down.
“I thank God for allowing her to be in our lives, and for me to be able to experience this,” said her mom, Meylin Rodriguez.
Rodriguez said the “experience” has been watching her daughter’s miraculous development from premature newborn to a healthy infant. Back in April, doctors ordered Rodriguez to go on bedrest, after realizing Brianna had very little support in the womb which put her at risk for a pre-term birth.
Shortly after she began feeling better, Rodriguez’s health took a turn for the worse.
“My body just went into shock, I was shaking. I really didn’t know what was going on. I felt like somebody was sitting on my chest, I couldn’t breathe," she said.
She was rushed to Baptist Health South Florida. Soon, Brianna’s father, Alex Gomez, was by her side. As Rodriguez’s condition worsened, doctors chose to deliver Brianna four months before her due date via emergency Cesarean section.
“When they did tell us that, you know, they were going to do a C-section, and it was like five minutes from now – that’s it. I just prayed, and I tried not to get nervous, but I really was.”
The team at Baptist Children’s Hospital was ready.
It turns out, Dr. Andrew Kairalla, medical director of neonatology, and his staff were adopting a new practice called “delayed cord clamping.” The procedure calls for pre-term babies to remain attached to their umbilical cords as long as one minute after birth. That extra time allows premature babies to absorb vital, fresh blood which can help speed up the recovery process.
“She actually went through the whole first week of life without needing any blood pressure medications, without needing any volume boluses, and without needing any blood transfusions,” Kairalla explained.
Brianna would remain in the neonatal intensive care unit for more than four months. Each day, she was getting stronger, and by Mother’s Day, she was finally ready for her family to touch and hold her; but, she wasn’t in the clear. Vision tests showed abnormal blood vessel growth in both of her eyes. The condition is common in pre-term babies, and in some cases, can leave them blind.
Brianna’s parents were down to two options: laser surgery, which ran a risk of her losing peripheral vision, or a cutting-edge treatment with a cancer drug that has proven successful with premature babies.
“It was discussed with the parents and decided to try a new therapy called Avastin, which is an injection in the eye which can reverse the growth of these abnormal blood vessels, and in some cases like hers, actually eliminate it and reverse the condition,” said Kairalla.
Early results show Brianna has gained about 80 percent of her vision, and that could continue to improve. In the future, doctors say she may still be at risk for developmental disabilities, or she many not suffer any at all.
Now home with her family, Brianna’s dad is promising to one day tell her her story of survival.
“I will tell her that she’s a miracle, and to make the best of it, because you only live once,” Gomez said.