Defying the odds: How the tiniest of premature babies was saved and given a promising future

May 03, 2018

Halfway through what would have been a normal pregnancy, Adriana Zepeda went into premature labor with her second child. She delivered little Amber at 24 weeks gestation and a birth weight of just over one pound.

To put it into context, a normal pregnancy is 40 weeks. Prematurity is considered a birth before 37 weeks. Any baby born at 25 weeks or earlier is considered extremely premature.

On Thursday, a healthy 1-year-old Amber Zepeda and her mom will be guests of honor at the annual Medical Miracles Gala, which benefits the charitable and educational programs of the University Health System Foundation. Amber’s story is one of how academic centers such as University Health System and its physician partners at UT Health San Antonio are giving hope to families such as Amber’s through research, innovation and evidence-based care.

It wasn’t that long ago that babies such as Amber would not have survived, said Dr. Cynthia Blanco, medical director of the Neonatal Nutrition & Bone Institute at University Health System and professor of neonatology at UT Health San Antonio.

“The therapies we’re testing today will probably be the standard of care in 10 years,” Dr. Blanco said. “We have hope for a lot of babies because of stories like Amber’s.”

In fact, these extremely premature babies have a whole host of medical problems when their normal development in the womb is cut that short. Amber’s heart, lungs, brain, eyes, liver and intestines all required complex treatment and multiple surgeries by a number of pediatric subspecialists.

Her mother enrolled her in three different clinical trials — one involving a newly developed ventilator, another to address her difficulty absorbing nutrients, and a third designed to improve bonding between these tiny, fragile babies and their mothers. And after 5 months and four days in the Level IV neonatal intensive care unit at University Hospital, and lots of hope, prayer and the best medical care available, Amber went home with her family.

“UT Health San Antonio is proud to support the University Health System Foundation and its Medical Miracles Gala that exemplifies commitment and dedication toward helping our community,” said Dr. William L. Henrich, president of UT Health San Antonio. “Through its growth and medical advancements, UHS has made a significant impact in improving health outcomes of patients and continues to make a positive, meaningful difference in the overall health of our community.”

WHO: Amber Zepeda, her mother Adriana Zepeda, and the medical team that saved her life.

WHAT: The people involved in Amber’s inspirational story of survival will tell her story at the University Health System Foundation’s Medical Miracles Gala.

WHEN: 6 p.m. Thursday, May 3

WHERE: La Cantera Resort & Spa, 16641 La Cantera Parkway

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