She was born the weight of a can of soup. Doctors didn’t know if she could survive.
“She wasn’t fully developed. One of her eyes was fused shut,” said Laura Daniels, the baby’s mother. “Her skin wasn’t actually skin; it was very papery. Her ears weren’t fully there. Her anatomy parts weren’t there.”
As soon as the baby, later named Kali Rose, was born, doctors of the Lauren Small Children’s Center took her to an incubator. She was too fragile for her mother to hold. Daniels said she didn’t even get to see her newborn until hours after she was born.
The struggle to keep Kali alive lasted for months.
Survival for babies born at 22 weeks is extremely rare. Most health professionals consider the minimum age of viability for premature babies to be 24 weeks. Babies born before that time period often have mental and physical health problems.
Daniels said she was not allowed to kiss her daughter caught until she was 55 days old. She didn’t get to hold Kali until she was 57 days old.
“It was a dark place,” Daniels said of the first months she and her child spent in the hospital. “I honestly thought I was waiting for my baby to die.”
But six years later, Kali has grown into a healthy young girl who loves Disneyland and wearing tiaras and princess dresses.
She is learning the ropes of kindergarten, and the health scares that popped up during the first few years of Kali’s life have begun to fade.
“I knew she was going to be special,” Daniels said of Kali. “I had to give her a fighting chance.”
A four-month struggle
Kali is the smallest child ever born at the Lauren Small Children’s Center.
She spent about two months being treated in Bakersfield before the UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital took her in for another two months.
“She just didn’t know what to expect,” said Destiny Thomas, Daniels’ friend.
Thomas recalled that Daniels stayed at the hospital while her daughter was being treated. She constantly worried during that period, not knowing if the next doctor’s update would reveal a change for the worse.
“She didn’t deserve to have that happen to her,” Thomas added. But, “you would never think that she’d been through the things she’d been through.”
Daniels had lost three children in pregnancy before Kali was born. Her first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. She next gave birth to her son, now age 11. She became pregnant twice afterward, but she lost both after contracting a pregnancy-related cancer.
“I don’t understand why I had to suffer so much,” Daniels said.
She loves children, and she wanted a house full of children to take care of.
She found that after Kali’s birth.
Daniels became a foster parent after Kali was born. Including her two natural children, she has a stepson, two foster children, and one adopted son that she cares for with her partner, Reginald Webster.
“I feel like I have all my kids plus a bonus,” she said.
She changed careers to work as a program supervisor for California Mentors, a company that helps adults with developmental disabilities.
Kali has a mild intellectual disability due to her premature birth, and Daniels said she wanted to help people like her daughter.
Although her daughter was born with a disability, Daniels expects her to be able to live on her own.
“She may not be a doctor or a lawyer, but she will be capable of maintaining her own life,” she said.
But living on her own is a long way off for Kali.
For the moment, she is content to watch Disney movies and go to Chuck E. Cheese's when she does well in school.
“She’s a lovely little girl,” Thomas said. “She’s happy now. And her mother is one of the best people that I know.”