When you look at one-year-old Alexis Clarke, you see a beautiful little girl with a big smile and two bottom teeth. She has started to take her first steps. These are milestones typical of most children her age, but Clarke’s first year of life has been anything but ordinary. Born at 25 weeks gestation and weighing just 11 ounces, her frail body fit in the palm of a hand. She had to fight for life, aided by doctors, nurses and staff in the UC San Diego Health neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
“It was the most challenging and emotional time of our lives,” said Alexis’ mother, Laurie, who confronted a serious medical complication during pregnancy that forced her to deliver early.
Alexis is the smallest baby ever born at UC San Diego Health, which has delivered babies for nearly 40 years. Initially, NICU staff was not sure if Alexis would survive. She suffered from underdeveloped lungs, needed eye surgery and faced many other life-threatening medical issues.
Due to technological advances in neonatal medicine over the last decade, Alexis slowly overcame her health challenges and was discharged eight months after birth – right before the Christmas holiday.
“It was such a special time for our family. It was a gift to bring our daughter home and begin our life outside of the hospital setting,” said Alexis’ father, Murphy. “The UC San Diego NICU staff saved our daughter’s life. The doctors and nurses are so compassionate and truly care about her well-being. They have become part of our family.”
That’s why the Clarke family made sure to attend the annual UC San Diego Health Little Grad Picnic this year. The event is an opportunity for families who spent time in the NICU to reunite with the medical staff that provided around-the-clock care to their premature or sick babies.
“It’s an incredible experience to see the other families who were in the NICU with us and know first-hand what that experience is like. To see their children growing and flourishing like Alexis is so amazing,” said Laurie. “My eyes filled up with tears several times throughout the event as we also got to reunite with the doctors and nurses who treated our daughter like she was their own.”
Now 14 pounds, Alexis looks quite different than she did in the NICU. She is still monitored closely by specialists, but she has been weaned off supplemental oxygen to assist her developing lungs.
“She’s a firecracker. She’s crawling, standing, walking and talking. She is very sweet and funny. We just love having her home and continuing to develop our family unit,” said Laurie. “We just got back from our first family vacation to Hawaii.”
Krishelle Marc-Aurele, MD, assistant professor with UC San Diego School of Medicine in the Division of Neonatal Medicine, cared for Alexis the entire time she was in the NICU.
“It is an honor to be part of Alexis’ life and see her doing so well,” said Marc-Aurele. “It is so rewarding to the entire NICU staff.”
Marc-Aurele and several NICU nurses even celebrated Alexis’ first birthday at the Clarke home.
“We’re just so appreciative of all the support we continue to receive. We know Alexis wouldn’t be where she is today without it. We can’t say thank you and show our gratitude enough to UC San Diego Health,” said Laurie.
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Alexis’ journey in the NICU.
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