When Kayden Slottke was born severely premature, his mom said he was the size of a pound of butter.
“I ended up having Kayden at 24 weeks, on Nov. 18. He was born at 10:32 a.m., at one pound and three ounces. His due date wasn’t until March 6,” Renate Slottke explained.
“He was fragile. He was so tiny I was scared to hold him at first.”
Kayden is Renate’s fifth child. But she had no idea premature babies, or preemies, could be born so early and survive.
Staff at the Stollery Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in the Royal Alexandra Hospital say it’s unusual, but not overly rare.
Cathy Ward, one of the head nurses, estimates that between 15 and 20 babies are born as early as Kayden in her hospital each year.
Babies born so soon do have complications, though.
Coverage of premature births on Globalnews.ca:
“Their lungs, their guts with feeding, their head. Every system has been compromised because they were born so early.”
The survival rate for 22- to 24-week-old preemies has improved greatly over the last few decades.
“On average I think about 60 to 70 per cent of these babies can now survive,” Dr. Manoj Kumar explained.
“About a third of them could have long-term issues in terms of disabilities.”
Medical advances have come a long way over the last few decades.
“The first big step in changing technology was the use of surfactant. That is a syrupy substance that’s produced naturally by babies’ lungs to keep the lungs open. Premature babies don’t produce as much surfactant,” Kumar explained.
He said there are also better breathing machines now, that cause less damage to babies by being minimally invasive.
There’s also better nutrition, as lipids and fats can now be delivered through a baby’s veins.
“It’s obviously heartening and I think we constantly look for ways we can improve further,” Kumar said.
Preemies that need to be weaned off breathing machines are now given caffeine for a better outcome and surgeries can be done on younger and younger babies all the time.
Still, these babies can face a long journey before they leave the hospital.
“Babies that are born at 24 weeks are probably going to be here probably a minimum of about four months. Anywhere from four to six months. It will all depend on their lungs, how they mature and if they have to come off oxygen,” Ward explained.
“Kayden had a really good start, things were looking really good in the beginning. Renate was here every day. As soon as we can with our babies we do kangaroo care or skin to skin care.”
Kayden and his mom lived in the hospital for five months.
“It was an amazing but scary experience at the same time. There’s a lot of tears and a lot of heartache,” Slottke said.
She can’t say enough nice things about the doctors and nurses she encountered in that time.
“The NIC Unit – I give them the best praises because they saved my baby’s life.”
But the nurses and doctors say it’s Slottke’s dedication that helped her son grow healthy.
“She participated in his care and that’s another thing that we recommend and promote for families these days,” said Kumar. “It’s been shown that it improves the outcomes for these children.”
“She was very committed and very determined that her little boy was going to make it and come home and he did it, and he’s thriving,” Ward explained.
Seven months after his unexpected early birth, Kayden weighs 14 pounds.
He’s teething, he just started eating solid foods and he’s ready to take on the next challenge life throws at him.