It was a day two Kelowna parents will never forget — Sept. 3, 2017, a day that marked a birth that happened far too soon.
“Her due date was Dec. 22,” said Kelowna resident Rachel Ruzesky of her daughter, Natalie.
The little girl was born at 24 weeks gestation and weighed only one pound and five ounces.
“When I first saw her it was terrifying because I thought, ‘How could this tiny little red baby survive?'” Ruzesky told Global News.
Natalie spent 138 days in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), first in Vancouver then in Kelowna.
Her parents were told on several occasions their little girl may not make it.
“It was scary,” she said. “We were told to say our prayers and to come in and say goodbye.”
But Natalie did survive and despite being told that she would likely not walk or talk, the now 3-year old girl has exceeded expectations by walking, running and doing plenty of talking.
“She didn’t walk until she was about two and a half. She’s walking now, so that was extremely exciting when she got walking,” Ruzesky said. “And then she didn’t talk until she was well over two and a half … but she went from five words to 50 words within a month of the speech therapy. It’s amazing.”
Ruzesky said having a baby born so prematurely was a very difficult experience.
“It felt like a nightmare that you just want wake up from,” she said. “It was absolutely terrifying.”
Tuesday, Nov. 17 is World Preemie Day, a day Ruzesky said is important to mark.
“I think it’s important to spread the awareness for those future moms or even the moms that are in the NICU now or just got out of the NICU … that they’re not alone and that other people have had these experiences with them.” Ruzesky said.
According to the Canadian Premature Babies Foundation, more than 30,000 babies are born prematurely every single year in Canada — 15 million worldwide.
“One million babies die every year from being born prematurely,” said Fabiana Bacchini, executive director of the Canadian Premature Babies Foundation. “And we know that through research any baby born pre-term, less than 37 weeks’ gestation, can have long-term impacts for being born so early, so that is a reason why we need to raise awareness.”
Bacchini said with PTSD and post-partum depression more prevalent among NICU parents, organization is advocating for more supports to be put in place for affected families.
“We need a big national program to be able to look at those families and say this family deals with trauma, how can we support them?” Bacchini said. “Something that is sustainable in the long term.”
That support will help ease the journeys of families like the Ruzeskys.
“I’m just so happy that my daughter made it through,” Ruzesky said.