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The Smallest Survivors

Some of the smallest babies born face the greatest battles for survival. CBS This Morning Health Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay reports on two premature babies who are winning their battles.

Radisha Ray was only 25 weeks pregnant when she went into labor: "When they rushed me down, they said, 'do you want us to do everything to save the baby's life?' I said, 'yes.' They said, 'are you sure?' I said, 'yes.'"

Her baby Syarra was born weighing just under a pound and a half, unable to breath without a ventilator. Radisha says when she first saw her baby, she thought, "Oh, my God, this baby was so small and little."

Syarra's doctor at Mt. Sinai/NYU Medical Center, Dr. Ian Holtzman, said in addition to having immature lungs, the baby developed bleeding into her brain: "She looked like a very tiny, immature baby, who I can't predict at that point whether she is going to make it or not."

Syarra is one of thousands of the tiniest preemies born every year in the United States, weighing less than two pounds at birth. Some of them survive against tremendous odds.

Rocco Fiorentino is one of those kids. His mother, Tina, went into labor after only 24 weeks and gave birth to twin boys, Rocco and Michael.

"Unfortunately", says Tina, "Because Michael was sick and had an infection, he stopped developing. So therefore, he was not as strong as Rocco was, and about a half hour after delivery he passed away."

The baby's father remembers, "It was a pretty difficult day because I saw everything take place, life, death, everything in the operating room, all in four hours."

Rocco's struggle had just begun. Given a 10 percent chance of surviving, he not only needed a ventilator to breath but also had an abdominal infection that required two surgeries in the first week of his life.

Tina recalls, "He laid in this bed in the hospital with his stomach completely open. He was extremely critical. They did not expect him to live. It was minute by minute, and not hour by hour or day by day."

After his surgeries, Rocco weighed barely over a pound. He needed more than 50 blood transfusions. His dad and namesake waited for the sounds of his baby's first cry: "With the feeding tube and the ventilator in his throat, there was no noise. So you'd see him making the motions of crying, but no noise came out."

Rocco has been through 12 surgeries. Today, he's a healthy 2 1/2-year-old.

His parents say they never had any doubts about their baby's will. Rocco Senior adds, "My son sent a clear message from day one that he was a survivor and a fighter. So far it seems like I don't have nothing to worry about."

Radisha Ray feels the same way about 3-month-old Syarra:
"The nurses say she's really feisty, she's a fighter. So she had been fighting for her life since the beinning."

Syarra is winning that fight. The doctor predicts she may make it home by Thanksgiving.

While Syarra and Rocco have won their struggles, many of the preemies born in the 23-to-25-week range are not so fortunate. Recent studies show that half of the survivors in that age group grow up perfectly healthy. A quarter have some complications, and the other quarter suffer from severe handicaps.

©1998 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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