By: Joanna Palmer

(December 7, 2010)

Many of them stand no more than two feet tall; but, their stories are huge.

On Dec. 3, Mount Sinai Medical Center welcomed back hundreds of baby “graduates” at its annual preemie party. The event reunited babies who defied the odds in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit with the doctors and nurses who cared for them. The carnival-themed event included a DJ, games, face painting, cotton candy and many grateful faces.

Looking at seventh-grader Jacob Leveille, you’d never know that he weighed just 1 pound, 7 ounces at birth 12 years ago. He and his twin brother, Jeremy, spent several months in Mount Sinai’s NICU after their mother, Vierginia Leveille, had to have an emergency cesarean section 13 weeks early. Jeremy did not survive to his second birthday.

“He wishes his brother was here with him,” Leveille said. “But we just couldn’t miss this day. Jacob had to be here to say thank you.”

Twins Emilia and Rosa Alexia entered the world three months ahead of schedule, weighing 1 pound, 4 ounces and 1 pound, 7 ounces respectively. They had less than a 50 percent chance of survival.

After spending an intensive period in the Mount Sinai NICU, Emilia and Rosa were able to go home. Today, they are 7 months old.

“Every day, I am very grateful to have them well,” said their mother, Joann German. “There were many things that could have gone wrong because they were born so extremely premature that many things didn’t develop. Every day that I look at them, I’m very grateful to Mount Sinai to have them the way they are.”

Nursery levels are regulated by the state, which requires that Level III NICUs like Mount Sinai’s provide the most advanced care and adhere to rigorous state requirements. Mount Sinai’s Abess Level III NICU is staffed by board-certified neonatologists who are on call 24 hours a day, and the nursing staff is specially trained in the care of premature/critically ill newborns.

Mount Sinai NICU’s neonatologists, Drs. Jose Antonio Adams and Ignacio Zabaleta, have worked together for more than two decades, taking care of babies from birth to discharge and providing a level of continuity rare in larger NICUs.

“This is probably one of the best days of the year for us,” said Adams, NICU chief. “It is very humbling to see so many of these kids come back knowing that, without our help, many of them wouldn’t have made it 10 years ago.”

Ten years ago, only 20 to 30 percent of premature babies who weighed as little as Jacob, Emilia and Rosa survived. Today, these babies have a survival rate of more than 90 percent, thanks to advances in technology, knowledge and research.