Charlie Smith, who was born at 25 weeks and weighed just one pound, has finally “graduated” from years of medical treatment with a special ceremony organized by first responders and medical staff in his hometown, Powder Springs, Georgia.
The three-year-old was cleared and discharged on November 1, a day before his third birthday. His family is so happy because, at birth, doctors said he had a 50% chance of survival after he was rushed to neonatal intensive care.
Charlie stayed at the hospital for 328 days before being discharged but his medical complications were only beginning. The toddler had underdeveloped lungs and had a tracheoscopy removed in 2019.
According to his nurse, Geunevah Lafontant, from Optimum Pediatric Services, he received therapy at home to aid in speech and physical activity.
“This year, he’s considered no longer medically fragile. He met all of his milestones and no longer required tracheotomy or gastronomy,” Lafontant said to GMA.
This is not the first time his parents, Wendell Smith Jr. and Alena Smith, have had a premature baby. Charlie’s older brother, Wendall III, 9, was also born a preemie weighing 3 pounds at 31 weeks.
Alena did not have any major complications during her pregnancy aside from preeclampsia when she carried Charlie. So, doctors cannot explain scientifically yet why her two boys were born before 37 weeks.
“It was scary,” Alena said of Charlie’s birth. “Especially since he was much smaller than his brother.” However, according to Alena, Charlie is a fighter who “was determined to keep up with his big brother.”
Now, a very active Charlie enjoys baseball games and wrestling with his big brother Wendell and the Cobb County police and fire stations knew it was about time they celebrated this milestone. He had on the whole ensemble, cap, and gown and all when he “graduated.”
His nurse Lafontant presented him with a certificate and was emotional during the ceremony, calling it “bittersweet” because her work is done. She said even though she is saying goodbye to Charlie, she is at the same time happy to see him enjoy life like a ‘regular’ three-year-old.
Babies born before 37 weeks of pregnancy are considered premature or born too early. According to the CDC, the rate of preterm birth among African-American women in 2019 was 14.4%. That is about 50 percent higher than the rate of preterm birth among White or Hispanic women — 9.3% and 10% respectively.
Babies born before 32 weeks usually have a higher rate of death and disability. Those who survive often have complications, not forgetting the emotional rollercoaster and financial distress families go through.
As Charlie is free from all medical complications, Alena is dedicated to supporting other preemie parents with her Trust Your Strength organization where she shares her family’s tumultuous story to give hope to others. In addition, she provides self-care packages to moms in the hospital.