When she was born, Elora De Bondi's arms barely spanned the length of her mother's finger.
The baby was born on January 29 weighing 319 grams, making her possibly the smallest baby born alive in Australia.
Before she was delivered 16 weeks' premature, doctors at the Royal Women's Hospital doubted she would live. But her mother, Adele, even after being told by doctors that they held no hope, never lost her own hope.
Ms De Bondi, 29, learnt that her pregnancy was in trouble during an ultrasound scan. Her baby was too small and her pregnancy would most probably end within a month.
"Basically, I was 20 weeks pregnant but the baby was about 17 weeks in size," Ms De Bondi said yesterday.
Doctors gave her a course of steroids in the hope of stimulating Elora's growth. Her lungs had scarcely developed.
After two weeks, doctors told Ms De Bondi that her placenta was dying and, with it, Elora.
Undeterred by the prognosis, Ms De Bondi demanded a caesarean section despite the risks of losing not only her child but her fertility and her own life.
Elora was born after only 24 weeks in the womb. She spent seven months in intensive care attached to ventilators.
Ms De Bondi, from North Balwyn, says Elora came close to dying countless times: she battled infections, renal failure and the stress of her surroundings. Many times doctors advised Ms De Bondi to switch off Elora's life support. Her mother remained steadfast, trusting that her fragile daughter, who she had barely touched, would pull through.
After months in a critical condition, Elora grew to 4.4 kilograms. She left hospital on August 27, astounding doctors with her survival.
Elora's pediatrician said her story was "miraculous but the journey is long and uncertain for extremely tiny babies".
"Families, and the staff who care for such premature babies, have faced the most difficult decisions of survival and quality of life," said Sue Jacobs, director of the Royal Women's neonatal services.
Before Elora, the smallest surviving baby at the Royal Women's was Adriana Cassar, born 13 weeks premature, at 374 grams, eight years ago.
Elora faces many hurdles. She is fed through a gastronasal tube and her immune system is weak. While her lung disease is expected to clear in childhood, doctors will wait at least two years before giving the all-clear.
- The Age