Happy Baby : Girl Who Beat Odds to Survive Smiles at Medical Center Reunion

Times Staff Writer

Dana Kathleen Knowles was not expected to live. Born 3 1/2 months prematurely, she weighed 1 pound, 3 ounces.

"The doctors didn't give us much hope because they said she had just a 5% chance of making it," Dana's mother, Cathy Knowles, 26, of Costa Mesa said Saturday. "They said they were doing all they could for her, but whether she lived depended on what kind of fight she was willing to put up."

On Saturday, 14-month-old Dana waved and smiled at the doctors and nurses who had treated her for nearly five months in the infant special care unit at UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange.

She and about 250 other former patients of the unit returned to the hospital Saturday for a carnival that featured a petting zoo, a bluegrass band, Disneyland characters and game booths. The former patients ranged in age from one month to 13 years.

"This is an opportunity for families to come back and to see how far they have come," said Diane Mawyer, a nurse who helped organize the carnival. "And it gives nurses a chance to see the good they've done."

13th Annual Reunion

The carnival marked the 13th annual reunion for babies treated at the unit, either because they were premature or required special operations shortly after birth, Mawyer said.

Many of the 40 nurses, doctors and other hospital employees at the carnival were particularly glad to see Dana Knowles, the unit's tiniest surviving infant.

Although insurance paid for Dana's $600,000 medical bills, her fight for life has been physically and emotionally draining for the Knowles. The struggle began last September when Dana and her twin, Deanna Kay, were born at Hoag Memorial Hospital in Newport Beach, Kathy Knowles said. Deanna weighed just over a pound.

Deanna, whose heart rate kept dropping, died just five hours after birth. Dana was transferred to UCI Medical Center.

The day after her arrival there, Dana underwent an operation to close a valve between heart and lungs that normally shuts itself at birth, Knowles said. Still, her weight dropped to just 12 1/2 ounces when she was a week old.

"Then, she caught pneumonia," Knowles said. "That's when they told us that she had less than a 5% chance of survival."

Within two weeks, Dana overcame her pneumonia. But then she couldn't keep solid food down. "They kept having to wait and try again," Knowles said. "It was like one step forward and then two steps backward."

For two months, nurses and doctors waited for her to grow enough to tolerate food. It then was another three months before Dana's weight reached three pounds.

Dana returned to Hoag for two weeks before going home. "It was closer to home so it meant that we could spend more time with Dana," Knowles said. "And this gave us a chance to learn how to do the things we needed to know in order to take her home. We learned how to bathe her, how to give her CPR and how to administer her medications."

On Feb. 16, some five months after her birth, Dana went home. She weighed just 5 pounds.

"She's been making steady progress and is doing well," Knowles said Saturday. Now 18 pounds, Dana sees a therapist once a week for mental and physical development. And nurses care for her while her mother goes to her job as an accountant and her father, Jerry, 26, to his as a construction worker.

Until a week ago, Dana had been on oxygen around the clock. But during the day now she goes without it.

"She is doing as well as an 8-month-old baby, and by the time she is two years old, she should have normal size and development," Knowles said, adding, "she's a happy kid."

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