LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) - The sound of small cries coming from baby Alex Romero is a sign of success.
But it's been a tough journey for the five-month-old and his parents Alejandra and Chris.
Alex came into the world on October 26 at just 26 weeks. He weighed just over two pounds.
"Seeing him so small was heartbreaking," said Alejandra. "I had to mentally prepare myself in case worse comes to worse."
Doctors diagnosed Alex with a rare condition called "total anomalous pulmonary venous return". The life-threatening condition required doctors at Children's Hospital LA to perform open heart surgery to repair the defect that prevented Alex's lungs from connecting to his heart.
"They noticed his oxygen saturation, which is the level of oxygen in the blood, was not very high, so they proceeded forward with an ultrasound of the heart," said pediatric heart surgeon Dr. John Cleveland.
But the preemie was too small for surgery because his veins were obstructed and blood flow couldn't return back to his heart.
To keep baby Alex alive, doctors connected an adult stent to a vein in his liver. It's a procedure that has only been documented 10 times worldwide.
"It was one of those things where we weren't really sure how things would turn out," Cleveland said. "We really had to figure out a way to get creative to get him through."
Creativity paid off: by early January, Alex grew to 3.5 pounds and was ready for surgery.
At that time, Cleveland says Alex's heart was the size of a grape.
"He tolerated the procedure incredibly well," he said. "He was already up into the [newborn intensive care unit] doing the things he needed to do to advance within a week."
Now, baby Alex is healing in his parent's arms with a big smile on his face.
"I want him to be great. I want to give him the opportunity for him to do what he wants to do in life," said dad Chris.
And thanks to Dr. Cleveland and the team, he will be able to fulfill that destiny.
"I hope that scar serves as a reminder of God's grace and that he can look back with gratitude for his life," said Cleveland.
Alex now weighs five-and-a-half pounds and no longer requires a breathing tube.
Dr. Cleveland says he will be strong enough to go home next week.
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