- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 18, 2004

BOSTON (AP) — Madeline Mann once weighed less than a can of soda as the tiniest surviving newborn known to medicine. Next week, she enters high school as something even more extraordinary — an honor student who plays violin and likes to Rollerblade.

“Her survival wasn’t a miracle; her development was,” said Dr. Jonathan Muraskas of the Loyola University hospital in Maywood, Ill. He treated her as a newborn and reported on her progress this week with other doctors in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine.

At birth, she wasn’t even pint-sized. Born 27 weeks into her mother’s pregnancy, she weighed 9.9 ounces, less than any surviving baby in medical history. She was 10 inches long, smaller than a football and resting easily in a nurse’s hand.

Yet several factors favored her survival. She was a girl, and premature girls tend to fare better than boys. Also, preterm babies have survived before, including some after only 22 weeks of pregnancy. Today, 90 percent of newborns survive after 27 weeks of pregnancy.

Survival, though, is just the first hurdle. Major handicaps such as blindness and mental retardation are common in the survivors. Madeline, now 15, suffers from little worse than asthma. She is very small for her age, though, weighing 61 pounds and measuring 4 feet 7 inches.

Her parents conceived her by artificial insemination. Her mother, who was 36, developed preeclampsia, a potentially dangerous condition that raised her blood pressure and squeezed the blood flow to the developing fetus. Doctors decided to perform a Caesarean section 13 weeks before her due date.

“I remember hearing the softest sound, almost like a kitten,” said Robyn Leslie, the mother. “Then I realized it was Madeline crying.”

Madeline needed a breathing tube and oxygen during her early days. “Mechanically, you worry about if you’re going to be able to get a tube into her little windpipe and trachea. Actually, I had no problem,” Dr. Muraskas said.

During later years, she developed normally in nearly every way and never returned to a hospital bed except for pneumonia at age 4, delaying kindergarten by one year.

Now living outside Chicago, Madeline returned to the Loyola hospital last week for a belated 15th birthday party and a reunion with doctors and nurses. She beamed a smile full of teeth and braces.

Her curriculum vitae otherwise reads much like any other teenager’s. She likes to listen to music, chat with friends on the Internet, go camping and ride horses.

Last summer, she participated in a volunteer project that gave blankets to children with cancer. She has worked for a food pantry, visited with residents in a nursing home, and traveled to Michigan to rehabilitate houses.

“Madeline has overcome a lot of barriers,” her mother said. “She has written her own story.”

Her fairy-tale ending? She’d like to be a psychologist.

She probably will have to learn about emotional and mental aberrations from a textbook, though. Her doctors and family said she’s just a normal teen.

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