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This month, our very own Philip Sunshine, MD, emeritus professor of pediatrics, will be honored as a 2015 “Legend of Neonatology” at an awards gala in Orlando. Called “one of the originals” in neonatology, one of history’s best, and an endearing and enduring figure, Dr. Sunshine has saved the lives of some of our tiniest patients, earning the respect and gratitude of their families. In recognition of Dr. Sunshine’s efforts to save her premature baby, guest blogger Sophie Heerinckx shared the story of how her son, Max, has thrived and grown into a healthy and active college athlete. 

I was expecting our first child at the age of 26, and my due date was December 16, 1996.  I was being followed through my pregnancy by the team at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford.  Everything seemed normal, and then in late October—about seven weeks before my due date—my blood pressure started going up and I was retaining a lot of water. I was told to rest and stop working. A few days later, I went in for a checkup again.

I could tell something was really wrong. 

My blood pressure was extremely high, and I had preeclampsia, a serious complication that is dangerous for both mother and baby. I was immediately rushed to the high-risk delivery area, where they induced labor right away. 

The funny thing is, we were supposed to start the childbirth prep classes that night!

After I was admitted, there were doctors and interns checking in on me constantly.  I remember the nurses being very caring and the doctors keeping a close watch. Since it was nearing Halloween, some of my nurses were wearing costumes. The nurse who cared for me was dressed as a cow!

On Thursday, October 31, 1996, at 8:11 a.m., Max was born six weeks early, at three pounds, 14 ounces. He was tiny and wasn't breathing, but Dr. Sunshine was there, ready to help him. Max was so small, but he was a fighter from the start. 

Max was taken to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and stayed in an incubator. After one or two days in the unit, receiving care from Dr. Sunshine and his team, Max was moved to the intermediate care nursery.  He stayed in an incubator for two more weeks.  He made some good progress, and started to gain a little weight with the help of a feeding tube. I remember it took so long for him to finish the tiny little bottles.

It was amazing how well all of the premature babies were being cared for. I remember it was a very peaceful place.

Two weeks after Max was born, we were finally able to take him home. He was so tiny that he barely fit into the car seat.

Today, at 18 years old and six feet tall, Max is a talented athlete and top-notch student! We are so proud of him. He graduated from Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose and is now a freshman at Santa Clara University. Max plays on the tennis team and continues to be a fighter—now on court!

We are so grateful to the work of Dr. Sunshine and his team. A few years ago, we sent Dr. Sunshine a letter with updates and photos of Max, and thanked him for saving Max’s life. He wrote back with a thoughtful handwritten note. What an extraordinary person!