Kwek Yu Xuan was born prematurely in Singapore in June 2020. Weighing just 7.5 ounces at the time, she is considered the lightest baby ever delivered. After more than a year in the hospital, she is finally on her way home. Doctors say she is doing much better now that she’s up to a much healthier 13.9 ounces, but she still has a long road to recovery.
“Against the Odds”
Doctors at Singapore’s National University Hospital feared the child had little chance of survival when she first came into the world. They used an emergency C-section to deliver Yu Xuan at 25 weeks gestation.
The baby spent 13 months in the NICU and had to rely on “multiple treatments and machines,” according to hospital staff; however, they added that the child was “active, cheerful and responsive” through most of her stay.
Parents Kwek Wee Liang and Wong Mei Ling said they originally planned to have the baby in Malaysia where their firstborn four-year-old lives, but the doctors told her to have the baby early after she came down with preeclampsia, or high blood pressure, during pregnancy.
‘I didn’t expect to give birth so quickly, and we were very sad that Yu Xuan was born so small,” Wong recalled. “But due to my condition, we didn’t have a choice. We could just hope that she would continue to grow (and be healthy).”
Studies show newborns weighing less than 14.1 ounces have a fairly high chance of survival, even though most babies are born weighing between six and ten pounds. However, a 2016 study suggests that newborns weighing less than 35 ounces at 28 weeks gestation or less have around 50% to 70% chance of survival.
Zhang Suhe, an advanced practice nurse, was one of several providers that looked after Yu Xuan in the hospital. She said she couldn’t believe her eyes when the small child came into the NICU.
“I was so shocked, so I spoke to the professor and asked if he could believe it. In my 22 years of being a nurse, I haven’t seen such a small newborn baby,” she said.
Dealing with such a small patient proved difficult in more ways than one.
Dr. Yvonne Ng, a senior consultant in the hospital’s neonatology department, detailed some of the challenges they faced in the NICU. “Her daily care was the main crux of the matter, especially for the first two weeks of life…We needed to innovate and find some improvised methods to deal with a baby this small because this is the first time we experienced somebody this tiny. She was so small that even the calculation for the medication had to be down to the decimal points.”
A normal size diaper covered the child’s entire body, so the nurses on staff decided to make their own.
“There are some chemicals in the diaper to absorb the baby’s urine, and this can’t come into direct contact with Yu Xuan’s skin,” said Suhe. “So we had to fold and seal the edges. These are the things we had to do for her, because caring for her skin is very, very important.”
Doctors described the child’s recovery as a “ray of hope amid turmoil”, considering the country was dealing with a brutal outbreak of COVID-19 throughout much of her stay. Fortunately, Singapore has virtually defeated the virus, reporting zero new cases over the last seven days.
After many months of hope and waiting, Yu Xuan is finally going home to her family. She is being discharged with chronic lung disease and pulmonary hypertension, two conditions commonly associated with prematurity, but her doctors expect her to recover over the next few months.
The hospital celebrated by sharing the news on social media.
“Against the odds, with health complications present at birth, she has inspired people around her with her perseverance and growth. We are happy for the little fighter and her family, and proud of the care provided by our team. Our best wishes to Little Yu Xuan as she continues to grow, thrive and beat the odds every day,” the hospital wrote on Facebook.
Zubair Amin, the head and senior consultant at the hospital’s Department of Neonatology, weighed in on the child’s stunning recovery.
“It was a difficult journey for Yu Xuan, and we greatly appreciate the concerted effort and benevolent support from our colleagues, donors as well as the larger community who have contributed to her survival and growth,” Amin said. “This was a team effort that embodies the spirit of care and compassion.”
Yu Xuan’s recovery may even make the Guinness Book of World Records. According to a registry from the University of Iowa, the current record-holder is a child born in Germany in 2016 that weighed just 8.1 ounces. However, a child born in America in 2018 that weighed 8.6 ounces holds the current Guinness World Record, but Yu Xuan is likely to change that.
Yu Xuan’s lengthy stay at the hospital came out to around $200,000. However, the parents were able to pay in full after raising over $300,000 on the crowdfunding platform Give Asia. As for the $100,000 difference, the family kept half to pay for Yu Xuan’s future medical expenses and donated the other half to other families on the fundraising app.
Now that her daughter is finally home, Wong had a special message for everyone that made her recovery possible:
“I have to thank the nurses for taking care of her for such a long time, they really took very good care of her. We were very happy that everyone could come for her discharge. The team is like family.”