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Monday
Jan092017

J.R. Smith, Wife Spotlight Families Grappling with Extremely Preterm Births

iStock/Thinkstock(CLEVELAND) -- Cleveland Cavaliers player J.R. Smith and his wife announced this weekend that their daughter was born five months early, making them part of the thousands of parents grappling with what's known as an extremely preterm birth.

In a video posted on the platform Uninterrupted on Saturday, Smith and his wife, Jewel Harris, said that their daughter Dakota weighed just 1 pound when she was born earlier this month.

"We know we're not the only family going through this, who has been through this or will ever go through it," Harris said in the video. "That's why we decided to share what we're going through with you guys. Please keep us in your prayers."

The announcement spotlights the rare but difficult occurrence of extremely preterm births, or births at less than 28 weeks of completed pregnancy.

The couple's daughter being born so prematurely is rare in the U.S., with an estimated 1 in 10 infants born prematurely and just a fraction of those births happening "extremely" preterm, according to Dr. Andrea Trembath, neonatologist at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital.

In 2015, just 0.69 percent of births occurred under 28 weeks, according to the National Vital Statistics Reports.

Trembath said that the strain of caring for an extremely preterm infant can be incredibly difficult.

"[We] try to help families prepare not just after the birth of a child born prematurely but before if at all possible," said Trembath.

As these infants need to stay in the neonatal intensive care unit after being born, parents may be torn between staying in the NICU with their child or tending to their jobs or family members outside of the hospital.

"It's an incredible social, emotional and financial stress on families," said Trembath. "Even those with very good insurance."

Trembath said these infants born extremely early are on the edge of viability and often require tremendous medical intervention to help them survive.

"[Families] say, 'If my baby survives, when are [we] going to go home?'" Trembath said. "I tell them, 'Don't expect your baby to come home until your due date.' If they are born three or four months early, we're talking about three to four months in the neonatal intensive care unit."

New medical breakthroughs have helped a small percentage of infants born extremely preterm to survive. Trembath pointed to special ventilators made for premature infants that help them breathe, new medication to help lungs expand, better catheters to deliver intravenous nutrition and other medications. However, even surviving preterm infants are at risk for multiple complications, including lung complications, developmental delays and increased risk of cerebral palsy.

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