Baby Marcelo born at 25 weeks premature, now thriving 2-year-old

The Gutierrez family fought hard to save their baby, but when he was born 25 weeks premature, they said their goodbyes.

Little Marcelo could fit into the palm of his mother’s hand. And while many new parents are quick to count 10 tiny fingers and 10 tiny toes, Marcelo’s delicate fingers had not yet formed nails. He could not open his eyes to see a bright new world.

“It was a very dark moment,” said his father, Rafael Gutierrez.

At a birthing hospital in Corpus Christi, Carla Gutierrez was wheeled in from the operating room, where she had just given birth to Marcelo via emergency c-section. Now, she was told it was time to let go of the baby she had dreamed about, grew and loved.

“It was a goodbye moment,” Rafael explained. “And you can’t believe it’s happening, so you’re not really processing the moment. I mean, everyone was crying, the nurses were crying.”

But then, one of Marcelo’s many miracles took place.

“As soon as Carla stuck her hand into the incubator, just to touch the baby, he starts responding,” Rafael said.

Tiny Marcelo was whisked away until he was stable. And for some time, there was hope.

“We were just on edge for a few days and then Marcelo had a honeymoon period, which they told us about… he was strong, and everything was going great,” Rafael explained. “But then after days and weeks of fighting in a world where (preemies) are not prepared to be yet, that gradually fatigues them, and you start seeing a decline.”

Marcelo went on a ventilator to help him breathe. But all the machines and all the tubes to keep baby alive just weren’t enough.

“There were critical moments, code moments,” recalled Rafael.

And then, another pivotal moment: When the doctor who continued to save each day — just like a Tom Brady who keeps throwing Hail Mary passes for the win — said there was nothing more he could do for Marcelo.

Still, the game wasn’t over. Marcelo would soon be transferred to Driscoll Children’s Hospital.

“I still remember when the Driscoll team came in to take Marcelo from the NICU at Spohn,” Carla said. “It was all very scary. But I trusted them — like I knew that we were going where we had to be.

“The care — it was something out of a movie. Everything was happening so fast. Everybody knew what they were doing and there were so many people on the team,” she said. “It just gives you hope that he’s going to be in the right hands.”

Little baby, big care

Marcelo spent the next 120 days at Driscoll Children’s Hospital. There, the Gutierrez family had more goodbyes to say, but also more welcome-backs to the tiny baby that could — and a thank you to the care team that did.

“He almost passed away several times,” Carla explained. “At first, they gave us just the most grim outcome of what Marcelo was going to be like after the NICU — if he survived. But then, it started to get a little better and a little better. Because of their care at Driscoll, Marcelo was able to come out, scratch-free basically.”

Euming Chong, MD, is director of the Level IV Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Driscoll Children’s Hospital which provides the highest level of care for premature and critically-ill newborns. It was the first NICU in South Texas to earn this designation in 2017.

Dr. Chong assessed Marcello when he arrived at Driscoll.

“Marcelo was born really, really early,” Dr. Chong explained. “So, he was at risk of having bleeds in his brain, of having his blood vessels and his eyesight not develop properly and going blind from that. (He also risked) having his lungs not develop properly and being forced to work too early and, because of that, scarring in his lungs and trouble breathing (could result) down the road, trouble feeding and digesting food, trouble with his kidneys because his kidneys were not fully developed yet, definitely a big risk for any infection because his immune system was so premature — and that’s just to name a few of the risks Marcelo faced.”

During Marcelo’s time at Driscoll, the baby had access to the specialists he needed, and Marcelo’s family had peace of mind — thanks to the round-the-clock care he received. At Driscoll, neonatologists and neonatal nurse practitioners are in the hospital 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Plus, a support staff of nurses, respiratory therapists, dietitians, surgeons, anesthesiologists and more are all specially trained to care for the tiniest humans.

“Having a preemie is a roller coaster ride of ups and downs. There is hope and then loss of hope, and hope and loss of hope,” Rafael said. “But Driscoll was there for us through all of it. Marcelo is a 1% baby within the 1% babies.”

Out of the darkest hoursFamilies can be confident that their children receive outstanding care in Driscoll’s state-of-the-art facilities, which serve South Texas — from Corpus Christi to the Rio Grande Valley to Victoria and Laredo. Here, children receive the best pediatric care possible close to home.

“Driscoll has a core mission to care for all children of South Texas,” Dr. Chong said. “We strive to provide the best standard of care to all our patients to give them the quality of medical care that they deserve and to get them to the quality of life that they deserve.”

There’s not a day that goes by that the Gutierrez family doesn’t think about their experiences at Driscoll. They are working to establish a fund to help other families facing the ups and downs that result from a premature birth.

Memories of the darkest moments show up on their phones, depicting their Marcelo — once the tiniest of babies tethered to machines, barely hanging on to life.

But today, those memories give way to a rambunctious 2-year-old — one who runs and plays with big brother, Rafael Jr., and enjoys all the things little boys do, especially the trucks, trains and planes that can take you the farthest. Just like a care team that’s close to home but gives you the chance to dream big about what’s in store for tomorrow.

The family gives thanks to Driscoll, which has set their baby boy on the path to leading a healthy, everyday life — one free and clear of cardiologists, pulmonologists and endocrinologists.

“We are just so grateful that Marcelo is how he is today, which is perfect,” said Carla. “But even if the outcome was not that, Driscoll would have always had a very special place in my heart, because I know that they did everything that they could to make Marcelo be where he is today.”

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