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Minnesota baby stuck in Brazil after arriving 3 months early on family trip

Minnesota couple struggling to bring newborn home from Brazil
Minnesota couple struggling to bring newborn home from Brazil 02:16

UPDATE: Sen. Tina Smith says the baby in the story below will be issued a passport to return to Minnesota.

FLORIANOPOLIS, Brazil — A Minnesota couple is searching for answers and desperately trying to get their newborn son back to the United States after he was born three months prematurely during the couple's trip to Brazil.

Cheri and Chris Phillips of Cambridge, Minnesota, were roughly six months pregnant when they went on the two-week trip to Brazil this past February. Doctors had approved and encouraged the travel, with Phillips' due date not until early June.

Two days before the couple was set to return home, Cheri was admitted to a local hospital with pregnancy complications.

"I just thought I was sore," Cheri Phillips said. "But in the middle of the night I started bleeding, I told Chris, yes, I need to go to the hospital."

After days of procedures, she was ordered to have an immediate C-section.

"Eventually it just became obvious that he was going to be born," Chris Phillips said. "I was in the operating room with her, and it was terrifying."

Chris and Cheri Phillips with baby Greyson WCCO

Greyson arrives months early

The Phillips welcomed their first child, Greyson, into the world on March 12. The newborn weighed just over 2 pounds. His fight was immediate. Doctors resuscitated his heart and took him almost immediately to the neonatal intensive care unit.

"It was terrifying, like oh my God," Cheri Phillips said. "I don't speak the language (in Brazil), I have no idea what's going on half the time. It's scary."

After 51 days in intensive care, Greyson was given the all-clear to go home. The only issue – home is still 6,000 miles away – and getting there has proven to be a fight in itself.

Family caught in "bureaucratic limbo"

At this point in the journey, the Phillips were staying at an Airbnb apartment near Florianopolis. The couple, both able to periodically work remotely, were hoping to take their newborn home after his hospital release.

But to leave Brazil, the two would need a passport, which would take a birth certificate, which would take the favor of the Brazilian court system.

Phillips Family

"The primary obstacle has been the local registry office, called a cartório, which refuses to issue Greyson's birth certificate simply because (our) U.S. passports do not have (our) parents' names on them," the Phillips wrote in an appeal for help to family and friends. "Four weeks ago, (we) hired a lawyer to help secure Greyson's Brazilian documentation but, after nearly a month, it has gone nowhere and they have no way of knowing when the judge will take up their case or how long it will take once he does."

From there, the couple says the next major hurdle is getting Greyson's U.S. documentation. Doing so would take his birth certificate and require a trip to a consulate or the United States Embassy in Brasilia. The couple would need to do so in person, they were told. The nearest consulate is 300 miles away from their current location, in an area heavily impacted by flooding. Greyson, who weighs just 5 pounds, still does not fit in his car seat.

"It's just this massive checklist of things, it's frightening and overwhelming, to be honest," Chris Phillips said. "Basically, we are caught in bureaucratic limbo."

Family seeks help from Sen. Tina Smith, Brazilian government

"It takes one person to make the call. It takes one person to make the right call," Chris Phillips said Tuesday. "We can't be here forever. It's been almost three full months that we've been down here."

The couple says they've been in contact with Sen. Tina Smith's office, who said in a statement to WCCO Tuesday that Smith has been in contact with the embassy and is working to eliminate the need to travel for a passport.

Still, the family is reliant on getting a birth certificate from the Brazilian government.

"To be home, in our house, with help, people to wash the dishes and hold him, you know, would mean the world," Cheri Phillips said.

"When we get home, when we finally get into our house in Cambridge, that will be a time to celebrate," Chris Phillips said. 

Data released earlier this year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that early-term and preterm births have increased in the U.S. over the past decade.

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