After 16 hospitals turned away this baby born at 22 weeks, a miracle happened
It's an unfortunate reality of life that the more premature a baby is, the slimmer their chances of survival will be. However, thanks to technological advancements, those odds are increasing with every passing day, and in a study published by the British Medical Journal, it was revealed that since 1997, the odds of babies born between 22-31 weeks surviving have increased by 6%.
Despite this, there is a cut-off point at which survival is nigh impossible, and the most premature baby to ever survive was born at 21 weeks and 5 days gestation. After all, premature babies have not had a chance to develop properly in the womb, and it is incredibly difficult to recreate those conditions externally. So when baby Cullen was born at 22 weeks, the odds were far from being in his favor.
In fact, Cullen's start to life was so bleak that when his parents discovered he was going to be born at 22 weeks, a whopping 16 hospitals turned his mom away because they didn't have the resources necessary to treat a baby that premature.
His parents, Molli and Robert Potter, then discovered that most hospitals don't treat babies born before 24 weeks because the odds of survival are so slim, and babies born at 22 weeks like Cullen have a mere 2% chance of survival.
But Cullen's father finally got some good news when he called up the University of South Alabama Children's and Women's Hospital. They agreed to admit Molli and deliver Cullen by C-section as they had treated babies younger than 24 weeks before.
Cullen's birth, however, was not the first struggle that Molli and Robert had as parents, and a year ago, they sadly lost their daughter Ellie to a miscarriage. The picture above demonstrates just how small she was when she was born. The couple then had yet another miscarriage before Molli fell pregnant with Cullen - just two weeks after losing a second baby.
When Cullen was born, he too was a minuscule size and weighed a mere 13.9 oz - which is 0.8 lbs.
The couple's ordeal began when Molli began to experience bleeding early in her pregnancy and feared that she was about to lose a third baby to a miscarriage. This bleeding continued for a few weeks, and Molli had no option but to visit the hospital when the amount of blood she was losing increased. However, she was released after being told there was no cause for concern.
Then, just one day later, Molli was readmitted to the hospital - "this time for good" recounted Robert.
"I rushed to the hospital from off the boat (I work offshore pushing barges in the river system) praying for the whole 5 hours it took to make it there that her body could hold on and Cullen would be fine. That never happened. The hospital she was in wouldn't save a baby before 24 weeks and treated her all over again like she was going to miscarry and there was nothing they could do to stop it. She sat in that bed for 3 ½ weeks scared, nervous, confused, helpless and in pain. I thought I was a strong man until I saw the hell my wife went through during this whole process… I wish that on no one, EVER."
"After the 3 ½ weeks the doctors tried to convince her every day to remove the cerclage and save herself. That thought NEVER crossed my wife's mind. We made a promise to each other when we lost Ellie that if our baby was fighting, WE WERE FIGHTING! The high-risk doctors brought in the neonatologist and he looked her in the eyes and told her Cullen would have a 2% chance to make it and if he did would be mentally handicapped… a mentally handicapped child is still a child and still deserves to be loved and would be loved whole heartedly by us. A 2% chance is still a chance… that 2% we were willing to take… the hospital refused to help. They told us their policies wouldn't allow it.
"We were frantic! We knew by doing a TON of research that hospitals were trying to save babies before 24 weeks and some having great success with it. I called 16 different hospitals in 3 states and found the University of South Alabama in Mobile, AL. With some very strong convincing and a desperate race against the clock, we got her transferred there. As soon as we got into a room they had doctors from each department come to evaluate her and come up with a treatment plan. They were going to do everything possible to try to get Molli to the 22-week mark and bring Cullen into the world as healthy as he could be when he came."
"At 12:01 midnight on the day she hit the 22 week mark they treated her like we had a viable baby and we had hope. That hope was all she had left at this point. She was physically and emotionally drained. I was emotionally drained and felt like there was nothing I could say or do to comfort her, so I focused on trying to make sure her care was 110% right all the time. She went into labor pains on and off for the next couple days, then it happened… we reached the point her cerclage could no longer stay in and it was now life or death that it had to come out. When it came out, she had blood clots and tissue come out larger than my hands and I saw grave concern in the doctor's eyes. She was rushed for an emergency C-section. Cullen was coming, whether he was ready or not."
"Cullen was born March 14, 2018. His due date was July 16, 2018. The team from the NICU franticly worked on him as they worked to save my wife. It was a fight for them both at this point. The room was sheer controlled chaos, almost choreographed. We heard my son cry… we cried and we focused to make sure she made it out of surgery so we could see what our miracle looked like."
"I had to wait an hour to see him in the NICU… it was the LONGEST hour of my life. When the nurse came and got me I rushed to see him… he was the most beautiful tiny sight I had ever seen in my life. I was so happy and so scared at the same time because I knew his fight was just beginning."
Thankfully, during a whopping five months in intensive care (160 days to be precise), baby Cullen slowly but surely thrived. He soon won the hearts of all of the staff at the hospital who were fighting to give him the best possible chance of survival.
So, when the time finally came to discharge Cullen from the hospital, they wanted to mark the occasion in a special way.
On August 21, he was dressed in a tiny graduation crown and cap and proudly walked out ICU by one of the nurses.
To see the touching moment Cullen graduated from intensive care, check out the video below:
As Cullen prepared to finally leave the hospital, he stopped for a picture with one of the doctors who had helped care for him.
Despite enduring so many difficulties in their quest to have children, Cullen was not Molli and Robert's first-born child. And when he finally got home, he was able to meet his big brother - who will undoubtedly be taking good care of him.
Robert said that he decided to share the family's incredible story so that other people who find themselves in a similar situation know that there is hope - even when the odds are stacked against them. He also wanted to draw attention to the need for hospitals to treat babies born before 24 weeks as Cullen's story is a testament to the fact that they can survive and thrive.
"These hospitals that refuse to save children because of policies are wrong," Robert wrote. "These babies deserve a chance and Cullen is a reason why. He has NO ISSUES and would have been left to die if not given a little help at first."
"The technology and education is there!" he said. "There are hospitals that WILL TRY to save these babies, so at least give parents information to give them a choice to transfer."
We would like to take this opportunity to wish Cullen and the Potter family all the best. Hopefully, Cullen's story will help save other babies born before 24 weeks. Where there is life, there is hope, and no child should be denied the chance to survive - no matter how slim the odds are.