The Journey Home: An El Paso Micro-Preemie Defies Odds

Pediatricians from Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso call baby Camila Duran a “miracle child”

Devaraj Sambalingam, M.D., FAAP

Devaraj Sambalingam, M.D., FAAP

A baby who weighed just over a pound when she was born last fall is now at home, happy and healthy in her mother’s arms.

Carla Duran gave birth to Camila Duran in November, four months before she was due. Weighing only 1 pound, 4 ounces, and at 22 weeks’ gestation, Camila was considered a “micro-preemie” – a special patient that would require lots of care to beat an extremely low survival rate of 0 to 5 percent.

But little Camila is a fighter. On March 6, she was discharged from El Paso Children’s Hospital without any major health problems. She weighed 6 pounds, 12 ounces.

“She just has mild respiratory illness, which is not unexpected for a baby born at extreme prematurity,” said Texas Tech Physicians of El Paso pediatrician Devaraj Sambalingam, M.D., FAAP, who helped deliver Camila.  TTP El Paso is the clinical arm of Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso.

Dr. Sambalingam is part of the team who cared for Camila in The Laura & Pat Gordon Family Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Level IV at El Paso Children’s Hospital. He said Camila went home on oxygen support, which is normal in cases like this, and would soon be weaned off the oxygen as her lungs grew stronger.

Ajay Pratap Singh, M.D., FAAP

Ajay Pratap Singh, M.D., FAAP

Dr. Sambalingam said it is rare for a baby born so premature to survive without significant health issues. According to a 2017 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, babies born between 22 and 24 weeks’ gestation have a very low chance of survival, and if they do survive, are likely to have serious neurological problems. Throughout the duration of the study, only one percent of babies born at 22 weeks’ gestation survived without neurodevelopmental impairment.

TTP El Paso pediatrician Ajay Pratap Singh, M.D., FAAP, who delivered Camila and has cared for her since birth, said medical teams that deal with complicated births “have to be ready for all eventualities.”

“We were actually prepared for this baby to not make it,” Dr. Singh said. “To see this baby go home is a very happy, joyous moment for us. This is a miracle child for us, and I will remember her for the rest of my life.”

Carla and Camila Duran in March 2019, when Camila was discharged from El Paso Children's Hospital. Photo by Tommie Morelos/TTUHSC El Paso

Carla and Camila Duran in March 2019, when Camila was discharged from El Paso Children’s Hospital. Photo by Tommie Morelos/TTUHSC El Paso

It’s an experience mother Carla Duran will never forget either. She said two weeks before her daughter was born, she felt something was not quite right. Speaking in Spanish, Carla Duran described it as an “unusual pressure” within her body.

“Every time I walked, I felt like I needed to rest, because it felt like I needed to go to the restroom,” Carla Duran said.

A few days later, she went to the restroom and discovered she was bleeding. She was taken to University Medical Center of El Paso and was told she could not leave because she was already completely dilated. Four months earlier than anticipated, it was time to bring Camila into the world.

A team effort: UMC, El Paso Children’s Hospital and TTP El Paso work in partnership on cases such as Camila’s premature birth and decide on a course of action for the patient.

A team effort: UMC, El Paso Children’s Hospital and TTP El Paso work in partnership on cases such as Camila’s premature birth and decide on a course of action for the patient.

After a successful  delivery, Camila was placed in the Level IV neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at El Paso Children’s Hospital. For weeks, physicians, nurses and other members of the neonatal team remained by her and her family’s side as Camila gradually gained weight and reached the milestones necessary to be released from the NICU.

Camila was cared for in the Level IV neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at El Paso Children’s Hospital

Camila was cared for in the Level IV neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at El Paso Children’s Hospital

“I thank God for all the doctors here, and that God enlightened them to take care of my daughter,” Duran said. “I thank them for helping my little girl so much. They were there always attending to her, helping to do all they could and more.”

While doctors, much like quarterbacks on a football team, tend to get credited with success, Dr. Singh is quick to point out it’s a team effort to provide the best health care for patients.

UMC, El Paso Children’s Hospital and TTP El Paso work in partnership on cases such as Camila’s premature birth and decide on a course of action for the patient.

“As a doctor, we are automatically given credit for something which is not truly dependent on us,” Dr. Singh said. “We do play a part, but it’s a combined-multitude, multidisciplinary team effort — from the bedside nurse, to the volunteers, to the respiratory therapist, to the speech therapist, to the radiologists, and to other specialists. It is not just me. It is everybody who works here.”

Update, May 30, 2019: Camila no longer requires oxygen support and weighed 12.5 pounds (5.7 kilograms) when she was weighed in early May.