Valentina Alvarado was born at the Kaiser Permanente San Leandro Medical Center at just 23 weeks weighing 1 pound 4 ounces. As neonatologist Ashvin Sangoram, MD, said, the humble reality is that there is no way of knowing whether or not a baby born less than 27 weeks will survive.
“With lungs as immature as they are, it’s quite a challenging period of time,” Dr. Sangoram said.
It all started when Valentina’s mom, Gabriela Alvarado, was 6 months pregnant, and had a day when she simply knew something was off. Her husband, Jesus Alvarado, got them to the Kaiser Permanente San Leandro Medical Center.
Not long after, Gabi was in labor.
“It all happened so fast. She was ready to come out and there was nothing to stop it,” Gabi said of her baby.
The size of an eggplant and unable to breathe on her own, Valentina faced frightening odds. According to the National Institutes of Health, babies born 24 weeks or earlier have a 40% chance of survival.
“The staff did prepare us for the worst scenario,” Gabi said.
Jesus recalls he was an “emotional wreck.”
“I will always remember when Dr. Sangoram told me, ‘You have to get it together. This is a long road, and it starts now.’ I could never have imagined the road it would be.”
Around the clock coordinated care
Baby Valentina would call an incubator in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit home for the next 5 months. Every day was a struggle for survival. But every day she had an entire team dedicated to her.
“It takes a huge team of nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, and social workers working 24/7 to keep these babies alive,” said Stephanie Jimenez, RN, one of many nurses who cared for Valentina and her family.
Jimenez led daily meetings with staff morning and night to plan a multi-pronged approach to Valentina’s care. “Every day started with ‘Where we are we today?’ and ‘What do we need to do for her? Can we push her? Does she need to rest today?’ It was an integral part of hospitalization for her.”
The resiliency and unwavering positivity of Gabi and Jesus was part of Valentina’s survival.
“We needed to be strong for her,” Gabi said. “When we went in the NICU, we tried to be really positive because we knew she could feel our energy. Our state of mind was key.”
The Alvarados said their strength was influenced by the “incredible” care and dedication of the San Leandro staff.
“They loved her so much,” Gabi said. “We felt so much love. We really were a family.”
A little miracle
Today, Valentina is 6 months old and healthy at a little over 10 pounds. She undergoes routine care with her team at San Leandro, which includes appointments with a pediatric nutritionist to ensure Valentina is eating and growing at a healthy rate.
Her parents work regularly with a Kaiser Permanente social worker who emotionally supports them through the ups and downs of the experience.
Dr. Sangoram said Valentina is doing great, and although there is still a chance she may suffer neurological damage from being born premature that can show once she starts to crawl and walk, Dr. Sangoram has high hopes for Valentia.
“We don’t have a crystal ball, but she has been a fighter from the start,” he said.
Gabi and Jesus said they are grateful for every moment they have with Valentina and are forever thankful to the people who helped get her to where she is today.
“If Valentina can fight this hard for life being so small, then there is nothing that any of us can’t do,” Gabi said.