After spending 137 days in the hospital, Ellison Piper Craft was finally able to go home with her parents on June 30, 2015. Having been born prematurely at 23 weeks and weighing only 1 pound 6 ounces, tiny Ellie was given little chance of survival. Thanks to the doctors at Sutter Children's Center in Sacramento, she's now a happy, healthy toddler.
When Ellie was born, she had a multitude of problems. She had a heart murmur, immediately got sick with pneumonia, and a yeast infection had invaded her bloodstream. As if the tiny infant weren't up against enough, she also had a small bleed on the right side of her brain, which is very common in premature babies. Luckily, the bleed went away on its own and medications resolved her other issues.
But the problems didn't stop there, says Lauren Craft, Ellie's mother. Ellie was also born with a hemangioma on her chest, which is a cluster of blood vessels that look like a birthmark protruding off the skin. Medication to treat the condition proved problematic as it caused what looked like seizures. Ellie ultimately had a spinal tap and EEG to make sure the seizures weren't part of a larger problem.
"I would not watch the spinal tap but I did stay to watch the EEG. It was difficult seeing around 20 wires attached to her tiny head," Craft says. "Thankfully, the spinal tap came out clean and the EEG didn't show any signs of seizures."
Once that particular hemangioma medication was stopped, Ellie didn't show any more signs of seizure activity. However, she encountered other problems with her blood vessels. Her little body could not make enough blood fast enough, so she had five blood transfusions within the first few months of her life. She also had to be placed on a ventilator right after birth to help her breathe.
On the bright side, Craft says Ellie's heart murmur went away and didn't require any medical intervention. She also never had any trouble eating, which is another big concern with premature babies. She tolerated all her feedings, mastered eating from a bottle and steadily put on weight throughout her hospital stay.
Ellie was a trooper when it came to handling medical procedures and reaching new milestones. One of the programs the hospital provided for Ellie was called Beads of Courage. For every procedure, for every day she was on the ventilator, and every feat she tackled, she received a bead.
"After putting all the beads on a string we stretched it out and it measures 19 feet long," Craft says.
Ellie continued to make strides, and she would have been able to go home before the 137-day mark if it hadn't been for continued drops in her heart rate. Craft says Ellie's primary doctor, neonatologist Gustavo Sosa, M.D., wanted her to go at least three days without having a heart rate problem.
"I remember he made the comment that if it hadn't of been for her heart rate drops, her case would have been the best he's ever seen at her gestational age," Craft says.
Ellie made it the three days without having a heart rate drop and went home with a heart rate monitor to use while she slept. Weighing in at 6 pounds 9 ounces, Ellie was much healthier but continued to take medications for her hemangioma, as well as diuretics and vitamins. Craft says it took Ellie about a week to adjust to her new home environment, but that she soon began to thrive.
"Ellie has seen a physical therapist and a child development specialist, and both have said they are blown away by her capabilities," Craft says. "They said considering her history and when she was born, they cannot believe how well she is doing, and that not only is she on-point with her development, she is advanced in some areas as well."
After being home for four months, Ellie grew to weigh more than 12 pounds. Her hemangioma ulcerated and healed, becoming almost flush against her skin. She also passed all her eye exams for her retinas, which Craft says is a huge relief due to Ellie being on oxygen for so long and at such high doses. Craft says Ellie is now a happy baby who enjoys walks and animals.
"She is rolling over, reaching for toys, pulling everything in her hands to her mouth, eating oatmeal cereal and is a big chatterbox," Craft says. "She loves to try to escape her diaper changes and also loves Gunner, our 100-pound black lab. Gunner loves her, and she laughs when he gives her doggy kisses."
Ellie has surpassed everyone's expectations. Craft says all of Ellie's doctors and nurses are beyond impressed with her and say she is one of the reasons why they do what they do.
"They say, 'Miracles do happen,' and she is living proof," she says.