The first 23-week preemie to survive in more than a decadeCourtesy Jennifer Fresneda
A few years ago, we wrote of the miraculous survival of a baby born at 26 weeks. This year we have Samuel Rodriguez, born in April at just 23 weeks and three days, the result of a spontaneous placental abruption (separation of the placenta from the uterus). All Samuel’s mom, Jennifer Fresneda of Tioga Texas, remembers is waking up to labor pains and rushing to the hospital (Medical City Plano), where she learned her baby’s sole chance of survival was emergency C-section (these are the myths and facts about C-sections you should know about). Sam actually took a breath upon emerging, but doctors immediately intubated and rushed him to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). When Jennifer and her husband were finally allowed to see their baby, Jennifer nearly collapsed from the shock. “He was the tiniest thing, hooked up to all these wires. I was frightened and powerless.”
Samuel spent four months in NICU, during which he had two surgeries, including surgery to correct a heart abnormality. On August 9, the day before his actual due date, Samuel was discharged from the hospital, a healthy baby boy, albeit with an apnea monitor and supplemental oxygen. “I didn’t even know babies so small could survive,” Jennifer marvels.
The boy who survived Leukemia three times in 10 yearsCourtesy The St. Baldricks Foundation
Zach Swart was first diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) at age 6. Although ALL is generally highly treatable, Zach’s version played hardball. Zach’s first treatment consisted of more than three years of chemo. Two years later, the cancer returned. After another two years of treatment, Zach was deemed cancer-free. Then last November, when Zach was 15, the cancer came back. This time, chemo was just the pre-game—to put Zach into remission in preparation for a bone marrow transplant (BMT). But three months later, after nearly dying from the side effects, Zach still wasn’t in remission.
It seemed he was out of options when along came the miracle.
Dr. Kevin Curran at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City introduced Zach and his family to “CAR-T cell treatment,” which Dr. Curran developed through a research grant from St. Baldrick’s Foundation. It put Zach into complete remission in a matter of weeks. Within a month he received his BMT (from his brother, Ben). He’s getting stronger by the day.
“I was initially afraid about CAR-T’s side effects,” Zach tells Reader’s Digest. “But then I didn’t have any at all. I was so lucky, and it feels so good not to be sick anymore and to be home and see my friends. I’m determined to leave cancer far behind me.”
“Every day I see Zach smile, laugh, and just be a kid, it is truly a miracle,” his mom says.