- Associated Press - Sunday, February 19, 2017

HERRIN, Ill. (AP) - Lilith Watts has overcome more challenges in the first three years of her life than many people do in a lifetime.

At 24 weeks into Savannah Watts‘ pregnancy, her daughter Lilith was diagnosed with myelomeningocele spina bifida, a birth defect in which an unborn baby’s backbone, spinal cord and canal do not close normally prior to the birth.

Because it was considered a high-risk birth, Watts was to give birth at St. Mary’s Hospital in St. Louis, so that after the delivery, Lilith could be taken immediately to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital for spinal surgery.

But Lilith, who was born on Dec. 15, 2013, came two days ahead of mom’s scheduled cesarean section. The Watts, Savannah and husband Ben, were still in Southern Illinois - two hours away from St. Mary’s - when she went into labor.

At Memorial Hospital of Carbondale, Watts was given medication to slow down the delivery process. She was told to prepare for a helicopter ride. But the weather had turned unfavorable, and so then she was told she’d be going via ambulance instead.

But she could not go via Jackson County Ambulance Service because her insurance would not cover the expensive ride unless the ambulance came from St. Mary’s, so the wait stretched on. After she finally arrived in St. Louis, Watts said she was told it would be just a matter of minutes before she would be wheeled into the operating room for the C-section.

But in a day of obstacles, there would be another. The operating rooms and doctors were tied up when she arrived by a wave of emergency C-sections that hit the hospital at once. So she waited. And waited. It was at least another hour before a room was cleared for her - and it opened up just in time. Lilith was moving toward the birth canal, which was problematic on a number of fronts. The umbilical cord threatened to wrap around her neck, and Lilith was breech, with her bottom facing down and her legs folded up around her head. She would end up stuck. The protective sac around her open spine was in jeopardy of rupturing.

But little Lilith is a fighter, and so is mom. Watts said she recalled at one point during the operation seeing stars, and the anesthesiologist rubbing her face to keep her calm, explaining that her heart rate was dropping and so was the baby’s. Watts recalled feeling confused and scared for her baby. Then, over the sound of beeping machines, she heard a beautiful sound - a cry. “That was, like, the greatest thing. I’m thinking, ‘She’s here, she’s alive and she’s got powerful lungs.’”

And it wasn’t long after that her husband was holding the baby. It may have been the medication wearing off and the trauma of the ordeal that left her in a daze, but Watts said she could swear it looked as if the two had halos around their heads as they stood under the operating room lights.

To say the least, it was a big day for a tiny girl who had just moments earlier taken her first breath in the world.

“They expected her to be completely paralyzed from the waist down and she wasn’t and that was a miracle,” Watts said.

The fact that she faced so many challenges in her first few days may have something to do with the brave and curious little 3-year-old preschooler she’s grown into, Watts said. Watts said she watches her push past expectations with both amazement and pride. She is truly growing into a lionhearted warrior child who knows no bounds.

Which is incredible, considering that earlier in her pregnancy, doctors told Savannah and Ben to prepare for the possibility of a stillborn child. As she progressed, the prognosis improved but was still grim, and there was no way for doctors to fully predict the complications they might run into after Lilith’s birth.

“Now, they are going to have to rethink her entire orthopedic plan because she’s showing a lot more movement than they expected.”

One recent evening at the Watts‘ home, Lilith asked if she could show off her push-ups. She did at least 10, and a little later, 10 more.

Lilith moves about the house with ease, in her wheelchair, or scooting on her bottom, using the strength of her arms to move about as fast as any child her age could walk or crawl.

She’s unable to walk at this stage because she has no feeling in her feet, and only some in her legs. But there is hope, said parents Ben and Savannah, that with adaptive gear and physical therapy, she may be able to walk in the future. But Ben and Savannah say they take her progress one day at a time, because there’s also the possibility that she will suffer setbacks in development over time. In the meantime, she doesn’t let the fact that she is differently-abled slow her down.

Lilith Watts loves Doc McStuffins, former First Lady Michelle Obama, Pikachu and Star Wars. She can count to 10 in three languages - English, Spanish and French. And she’s figured out how to bypass the parental controls on her parents’ Samsung tablet. At times, mom said she’s discovered Lilith watching YouTube videos of medical procedures. Watts said she wonders if her daughter is drawn to the videos because she has spent so much time in the hospital.

With her Doc McStuffins’ toy accessories, she loves to check visitors’ hearts with her stethoscope and then give them a pretend shot so that they feel all better.

She recently told mom that when she grows up, she wants to be a doctor, but there’s a twist. She also wants to become Batman. And she plans to have her medical practice in space, as she also aspires to be an astronaut.

Which makes perfect sense for this little Herrin girl, for whom the sky is the limit.

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Source: The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan, https://bit.ly/2ksacn8

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Information from: Southern Illinoisan, https://www.southernillinoisan.com

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