In April 2021, the world’s most premature baby was determined that he was finally fit enough to go home after 275 days in the hospital.
Born in July 2020, exactly one month after the previous most premature baby, Curtis Zy-Keith Means was born at a gestational age of 21 weeks 1 day – that’s almost 19 weeks premature. Curtis was 132 days premature. A full-term pregnancy lasts 40 weeks or 280 days.
“They didn’t know if he was going to survive so they just told me to keep on praying” Curtis’ mother Michelle revealed.
He weighed 14.8 ounces (420 grams) at birth, which is the same as a soccer ball, Guinness World Records said. Being born and surviving placed Means in the Guiness Book of World Records as officially the world’s most premature baby.
That’s seven times less than the weight of an average newborn who was brought to full term.
Michelle told Guinness World Records: “The medical staff told me that they don’t normally keep babies at that age. It was very stressful.”
Means was born alongside a twin, C’Asya, who died a day after they were born.
They were born at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Dr. Colm Travers, assistant professor at the university’s neonatology division, told Guinness World Records: “Survival at this gestational age has never happened before, so before Curtis was born his chances of survival would have been far less than 1%.”
Dr. Brian Sims, the neonatologist who oversaw the birth, told Guinness World Records: “I’ve been doing this almost 20 years … but I’ve never seen a baby this young be as strong as he was.”
The record was previously held by a baby born at 21 weeks and two days — one day longer than Means.
A baby born as young as Curtis takes it one step at a time. After surviving the first day, he needed to make it through the first week. The team of doctors and nurses immediately activated the UAB Golden Week Program™, a multidisciplinary effort that includes clinical guidance on respiratory support, thermoregulation, nutrition and fluid management, infection prevention, and neurological status.
“When taking care of severely premature babies, you have to take it step-by-step and day-by-day,” said Travers, who is co-director of the Golden Week Program™. “The program combines evidence-based medicine and best practices to increase a premature baby’s survival chances during their first week of life. The program has resulted in a marked reduction in mortality or severe intraventricular hemorrhage within the first week of life.”
Curtis continued defying odds, to his family’s and the team’s amazement. He survived the first week. Then the first month. His journey at UAB, however, was far from over.
Curtis received around-the-clock care over the next nine months. Speech therapists worked to help him start using his mouth and learn to eat. Respiratory therapists supported his breathing through various efforts as he came off the breathing machine. Nurses provided daily care, from checking vitals to soothing him to sleep, to supporting Butler as she learned the intricate care Curtis needed.
“There were days when we were unsure that he would survive,” said Sumita Gray, an RNICU nurse on Curtis’ team. “He was the youngest baby anyone had worked with, but we are a level 4 RNICU and knew we had the resources and expertise to support Curtis and his mom. We were determined to see him go home.”
Preterm Black Babies
The preterm birth rate declined 1% in 2020, from 10.2% in 2019 to 10.1% in 2020. However, racial and ethnic differences in preterm birth rates remain. In 2020, the rate of preterm birth among African-American women (14.4%) was about 50 percent higher than the rate of preterm birth among white or Hispanic women (9.1% and 9.8% respectively).
Preterm Warning Signs
In most cases, preterm labor (labor that happens too soon, before 37 weeks of pregnancy) begins unexpectedly and the cause is