WOODBURY — Before she was even born, Athena Omoto had the odds stacked against her.
"They sent us home. They said go home. There's nothing we can do," Athena's mom Jackie Omoto said. "Your fetus is not going to make it."
Jackie and her husband, Chris, didn't take no for an answer.
"They said there's nothing they can do," Jackie said. "But yet I can hear her heart. I can feel her moving. As a mom, I guess you just know that there's still somebody in there."
Athena made her way into the world at just 25 weeks, facing a complex and life-threatening condition. She weighed 355 grams and was 9-and-a-half inches tall.
"She was as big as an iPhone," Jackie said.
Athena spent nearly six months in the neonatal intensive care unit as a hospital in Las Vegas, finally coming home on Christmas Eve last year. Athena's time at home didn't last long and soon she was back in the emergency room. It wasn't enough.
"I had the bright idea of looking into Minnesota because of hockey," Chris said with a laugh. "We found out the health care here is a lot better than it is in Nevada. We started researching."
That research brought them to M Health Fairview Masonic Children's Hospital. In an emergency situation, Jackie and Athena made their way to Minnesota in July. Athena was just 6 pounds. That's where they met Dr. Billy Sveen, a pediatric critical care physician with M Health Fairview and the University of Minnesota Medical School.
"Athena is a complex kid so she requires a lot of complex technology to be healthy. When she came to us she was acutely ill with a viral infection and then became quickly apparent that she was going to need help eating and help breathing in order to be successful in her life. So that was something we were able to help with," Sveen said.
Complex is an accurate description. Between a number of diagnoses, including hypoxemia, hypoxia/respiratory failure, cerebellar hypoplasia, pulmonary hypertension and chronic adrenal insufficiency, she needed help from multiple specialists. With help from a ventilator and breathing tube Athena has doubled her size since coming to the Minnesota. At 17 months old, she's still growing.
"It's one of the most fulfilling things about my job is to see a kid who is very sick, often the sickest days of their life and some of the hardest days of a family's life, and to be able to take them from that point and give them a better way to live," Sveen added.
As the Omotos prepare to bear through their first Minnesota winter, they are overcome with gratitude.
"I miss family. But she's alive. We're thriving. I don't miss anything else," Jackie said. "I feel like we found home."
Home: a word for them that holds more meaning than it did before.
"New environment. New state. It's OK. She's alive and back home with us," Jackie said. "We didn't know we were going to have that option again. We're grateful she made it home again, aren't we?"
Jackie says Athena is a happy baby — always with a smile on her face. With so many unknowns about Athena's condition, her smile keeps the Omotos going.
"There was days in the hospital that we didn't know if that was it. And you just gotta take that second at a time. Just push forward. Let that day go by. There's always one more day. Let that day go by, there's another day and just letting her know that we are going to push with her as far as she wants." Jackie said.
The Omotos love Disney. When Athena is in a better place, their dream is to take all three kids there.
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