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Pediatric Therapists Help Save Premature Babies

By Kelli Grant

Published: November 13, 2009, 6:09 PM

When a baby is born, often times it can do simple things like swallow and take a bottle with no problem. But when a baby is born very premature, those simple skills haven't developed naturally and they need to be taught. That's where a series of therapists come into play. And those skills are finally sending what was once one of the smallest babies at Sanford Children's Hospital home.

At just over seven pounds, baby Norah Hannon is the size of an average newborn but she's technically four months old.

"We actually came in the room, I was still in my hospital bed and I looked in the incubator and I'm like, 'Where's my baby?' She was so small you couldn't see her," mom Lexi Hannon said.

Hannon was only 24-weeks pregnant when she gave birth and doctors gave the 15-ounce baby girl a 50/50 chance of survival.

"From basically day one with her, it was touch and go," Hannon said.

But this tiny baby began to grow and that's thanks to a team of doctors, nurses and therapists.

Therapists like Karla Hybertson helped Norah develop the skills she needed to get stronger.

"You're looking at things like positioning for prevention of intercranial hemmorages, best position for ventilator support," Hybertson said.

Hybertson is a pediatric occupational therapist. She helps with Norah's motor skills and sensory system.

"She was tiny and she also had a tummy ache all the time so she would draw her legs up really tight and kind of grunt and be uncomfortable so we would help stretch out her back and her hips," Hybertson said.

Norah's therapy didn't stop there; physical and speech are also making her stronger every day.

"Our speech therapists do almost all feeding. They're looking at babies, are they able to bottle? Are they efficient bottlers? How much energy are they wasting bottling?" Hybertson said.

"When they told me she had speech, my first thought was you mean later on when she can talk, and they're like, 'No, now,'" Hannon said.

Norah's speech therapist also taught her how to swallow, which is something babies usually learn to do in the womb.

"When she first started bottling, the milk would go into her lungs, she'd be like drowning herself," Hannon said.
They're skills she needed to survive, and they're skills that will send her home very soon.

"She's a miracle baby. She wasn't supposed to make it. And now with all the care and the doctors know exactly what they're doing. And with PT, OT and speech, wow," Hannon said.

Norah's mom says they should be able to go home with their new baby girl on Monday.

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