A sixteen-month-old baby has set a new world record: born 132 days early, now stronger than ever, he is officially the most premature baby ever to survive.
Generally speaking, it takes around nine months to build a human. That may sound like a long time, but it’s actually surprisingly short – if baby humans came into the world at the same developmental stage as, say, baby chimpanzees, it would take a year and a half or more of gestation time to get there.
However, about one in ten births in the US are considered premature, meaning they occurred before the 37th week of pregnancy. If a baby turns up one day early, it probably won’t be much of a problem – but when a pregnancy ends weeks or even months before the due date, the chances of everything turning out well go down significantly, fast. A baby born at 32 weeks, for instance, has as high as a 95 percent chance of survival. At 24 weeks, it’s less than 50 percent.
That’s why when twins Curtis and C’Asya Means were born at just 21 weeks and one day, doctors didn’t have high hopes.
“We typically advise for compassionate care in situations of such extremely preterm births,” Dr Brian Sims, attending physician at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) for Curtis and his mother Michelle Butler, explained in a statement. “This allows the parents to hold their babies and cherish what little time they may have together.”
Sadly, for one of the twins, the outcome was tragic: C’Asya died at one day old. But Curtis survived – and now, at just sixteen months old, he’s officially a world record holder.
“Curtis, or 'Poodie' as his family also call him, celebrated his first birthday on 5 July 2021,” explains an announcement from Guinness World Records. “At this point he qualified as the most premature baby to survive.”
When Curtis was born, he weighed just 420 grams (14.8 ounces) – that’s less than one-eighth the weight of the average newborn. He needed round-the-clock care in a specialist neonatal intensive care unit: bottled oxygen, therapists to help him use his mouth, and a tailor-made course of medications to help him develop.
“He showed initially that he responded to oxygen, his heart rate went up, his numbers went up … he wanted to survive,” Sims told GWR. “I’ve been doing this almost 20 years… but I’ve never seen a baby this young be as strong as he was."
"There was something special about Curtis.”
It took 275 days – about as long as a full-term pregnancy – before Curtis was ready to be discharged. Taking him home after so long in the hospital was “a moment I will always remember,” Butler told NPR. While he still needs a feeding tube and supplemental oxygen, his doctors say he’s in good health.
Curtis beats the previous record holder, Richard Hutchinson from Wisconsin, by just one day – at so young a gestational age, however, that’s a big difference. Before Hutchinson, Guinness reports, the record stood unbroken for 34 years.
“When he was going home, the feeling we had was of being privileged to have been able to take care of him and his mum.” assistant professor within UAB's Division of Neonatology Dr Colm Travers told GWR. “It’s such a privilege taking care of these tiny people.”