Utah Toddler Returns Home After 3 Years, 4 Months In NICU

Jan 15, 2019, 5:44 PM | Updated: Jan 16, 2019, 6:00 pm

SANDY, Utah – A family separated by miles and who have had years of close calls is safely back together after their youngest child was born premature, and with the worst complications possible.

News Specialist Heather Simonsen has been following the family for last eight months.

They said family is everything. This one has 1,700 miles between them, with digital contact substituting for the real thing.

V. Thipsouvan and her daughter, Raven, Skype Zariah and her father Shawn Donovan
In Ohio. The family has had to live apart for three years and four months because of major complications from her premature birth.

“Not being able to see them for basically three years is just super hard,” said V Thipsouvan, Zariah’s mom, who lives in Sandy. “There’s part of me that’s so terrified that she’s going to forget me.”

Zariah was born prematurely.

“Twenty-three weeks and six days,” Thipsouvan said.

Given a slim chance of survival, she had open heart surgery at three weeks old. After 10 months on a ventilator, her doctors said her chances dropped to zero.

Zariah Donovan was born at 23 weeks and 6 days. She was given a slim chance of survival, and had open heart surgery at 3 weeks. After 10 weeks on a ventilator, her doctors say her chances dropped to zero.

“Lung tissue growth, the great portion of it happens in the third trimester and she never made it to there,” she said.

A Hail Mary pass to a specialty unit in Ohio followed, where she has spent time with doctors for the past two and half years.

“I think our staff are the ones who really spend the most time with them and really become like aunts and uncles and cousins and parents,” said Dr. Edward Shepherd, section chief of neonatology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

Zariah’s father, Shawn Donovan, quit his career to be with her 24/7. He was the only one who could keep her from fighting the ventilator. Feeling safe in Daddy’s arms, her condition improved.

“Just the distance, you know,” said Thipsouvan, who stays home in Utah with daughter Raven, and works to maintain the family’s health insurance.

Despite the distance, Zariah has saved many firsts for her mom’s visits.

“She started taking steps forward. Then the therapist was even more excited because she was like, ‘This is the first time that she’s ever taken steps forward,’ and I was like, ‘Yes!’”

Donovan said on a Skype call last spring, “June 7th will by our thousandth day in the NICU.”

As Zariah progresses, they hoped to have her home for her third birthday.

“She’s walking. She’s not doing the hopping anymore.” Thipsouvan said. “I just want everyone under one roof.”

They make the most of things, dressing up the girls for Halloween, an attempt at normalcy in a life that isn’t.

“I just want all of us to hold each other,” Thipsouvan said.

They felt new hope for the fall when Zariah switches to a home ventilator, the biggest hurdle left.

“Excited and nervous and exhausted and everything all at once,” she said. “We’ve got to cross our fingers that we’re going to continue on the upward swing.”

Then, word she might be home for Christmas.

“’I’ll be home for Christmas.’ That very song popped into my head,” Thipsouvan said. “It’s been a long haul, but the holidays came and went.

But now, “The most amazing feeling ever,” said Donovan, driving home from Ohio while his wife flies to Ohio to return to Utah with Zariah.

Nurses at Nationwide Children’s Hospital lined the hallway Tuesday morning to tell Zariah and her mother good-bye.

At the Salt Lake airport just after noon, Donovan waited for their arrival.

“Very excited, very emotional. Through everything she has been through, she has always fought. She never gave up, so we couldn’t give up,” he said.

After 1,221 days in the NICU, Zariah was just moments away from landing by medical plane, reunited at last.

Thipsouvan exited the plane first, and with tears embraced Donovan. Then, medical workers brought Zariah, who was sleeping peacefully, off the plane on a stretcher.

Family is everything, and this one is finally all back together.

“It’s the most amazing things when you know that you’ve been given a second chance – when you know at one point, someone told you she was never going to get to come home. But now, she’s a miracle and a fighter and we’re home, we’re home,” Thipsouvan said through tears.

Zariah will be at Primary Children’s Hospital for the next two to three weeks before she gets to go home.

Her prognosis is good, and they expected her to eventually wean off the home ventilator and live a healthy, normal life.

If you’d like to follow her progress, visit www.facebook.com/ZariahStrong, and if you’ like to help the family with medical expenses, go to www.gofundme.com/ZariahStrong.

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Utah Toddler Returns Home After 3 Years, 4 Months In NICU