‘Miracle’ Baby Home After 183 Days in the NICU
May 2, 2024
Monique Binkley Smith
Micropremie Seiori Sweeney Austin, wearing her NICU graduation 'mortar board,' leaves the Alta Bates Summit Medical Center for the first time since she was born six months ago.

Paris Sweeney Austin is grateful for simple pleasures like taking her baby Seiori outside for a walk to feel the breeze and the warmth of the sun.

It’s something the 29-year-old doesn’t take for granted after enduring six months during which her tiny newborn fought to survive, too premature and too fragile to leave the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Photo of newborn Seiori Sweeney Austin who was born at only 23 weeks and 2 days and weighed just 12 oz.

Micropreemie Seiori Sweeney Austin was born at only 23 weeks two days and weighed just 12 ounces -about the size of a can of Coke.

Born at the very edge of viability at only 23 weeks and two days, Seiori was also unimaginably tiny, weighing only 12 ounces –the size of a can of Coke. Her miniature hand was barely able to grasp the tip of her mother’s pinky finger, her feet were the size of a quarter.

Incredibly, Seiori was recently discharged home from Sutter’s Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley after spending the first 183 days of her life in the hospital’s level III NICU. She now weighs a healthy 9 ¾ lbs. She’s also breathing on her own and feeding from a bottle –and inspiring everyone with her incredible journey.


Sweeney Austin, a behavioral interventionist who works with children with autism, endured a high-risk and difficult pregnancy. She suffered from diabetes and severe ongoing nausea. Then her physician determined she needed cerclage –a procedure where the cervix is sewn shut— to help prevent a late-term miscarriage or premature birth. But before she could undergo cerclage, her water broke. Sweeney Austin spent the next several days in the hospital while doctors prepared her baby for the likelihood of a premature birth by administering medications to help her lungs and gut mature as rapidly as possible.

Seiori Sweeney Austin holds mom Paris Sweeney Austin's pinky finger.

Seiori Sweeney Austin holds her mom’s pinky finger.

The care team held off Seiori’s birth for as long as they were able, but unfortunately, Sweeney Austin got an infection which meant labor had to be induced to save her and her baby’s lives.

After she was born, tiny Seiori was whisked down the hall to the NICU, where she spent the next six months. Alta Bates Summit NICU physicians and staff are experienced at caring for premature and very sick newborns, but Seiori was unusual even to them.

Dr. Shilpa Patil, an attending neonatologist and associate medical director of the Alta Bates Summit NICU, says, “Seiori was so small –even by preemie standards— that our care team was initially challenged placing her breathing tube, providing her nutrition and giving her medication, because her veins were almost too small for even the smallest IV line. In fact, even her diapers –the smallest diapers made— were too big for her.”

Seiori’s feet were about the size of a quarter at birth.

“I am so proud of the Alta Bates Summit NICU team,” says Dr. Patil. “Caring for Seiori was one of the most challenging –and rewarding— experiences of our careers. Seeing her go home is emotionally overwhelming, there’s so much joy, and it makes all of our hard work completely worth it.”

For Sweeney Austin, the past six months were a marathon. She commuted to the hospital daily from her home in Vallejo to bond with Seiori, feeding her, talking to and reading to her, and showering her with love and encouragement. And then Sweeney Austin’s mother, with whom she lives, became very ill and had to be hospitalized.

Through it all, Sweeney Austin persevered, leaning on her faith and the NICU care team. “I am so grateful for everyone at Alta Bates Summit who took care of Seiori and me,” she says.

Sweeney Austin describes her daughter as feisty and determined, “She was only 12 days old when she pulled out her breathing tube and opened her eyes for the first time. She looked at us and it was like she was making sure we all knew she was ready to fight.”

Dr. Shilpa Patil and Paris Sweeney Austin embrace.

Dr. Shilpa Patil and Paris Sweeney Austin saying goodbye on the day Seiori finally was well enough and big enough to go home, six months after she was born.

Health challenges abound when a baby is born extremely prematurely. Micropreemies may struggle to breathe because they lack sufficient lung tissue to get enough oxygen. And their digestive and immune systems are immature, making it more difficult to absorb the nutrition needed to grow and fight off infection. Micropreemies also often suffer high rates of brain bleeds and other neurological challenges.

“Caring for these babies requires a high degree of skill,” says Dr. Patil. “At the Alta Bates Summit NICU, we have an experienced team who represent the best in their professions from neonatal nurses to respiratory therapists, nutritionists, pharmacists, physician specialists and neonatal speech, occupational and physical therapists,” says Dr. Patil. “We also have clinical social workers, psychologists and spiritual care to support parents and families. We are proud to offer this level of care in the East Bay to babies who need it.”

Alta Bates Summit NICU staff celebrate as mom and baby finally leave the hospital together.

Members of the Alta Bates Summit NICU team celebrate as mom and baby finally leave the hospital together.

High-quality care and compassionate support continue once an infant is well enough and mature enough to go home. Alta Bates Summit offers a High-Risk Infant Follow-Up Clinic for very low birthweight, premature or very ill babies. At regular check-ups, each child’s progress is monitored, and parents receive recommendations for services to help encourage optimal growth and development.

Sweeney Austin is grateful to finally be at home with her baby. “At Alta Bates Summit, they work so well together. I couldn’t have asked for a better team to work with Seiori,” she says. “I feel very blessed to be home with my daughter.”

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