GENESEE COUNTY, N.Y. -- Maria Thompson first held her youngest daughter one year ago on Mother's Day while sitting in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Golisano Children's Hospital.
This year, the Genesee County family of five plans to celebrate how far they've all come.
"This is my first Mother's Day where we can all be together as a family," said Thompson, 34. "I don't care where we are or what we do as long as we're together. It's going to be amazing, even if it's just a day in our pajamas. I want us all to be together under one roof."
Baby Talia was born via emergency C-section 14 weeks early on Easter Sunday in 2016. She weighed 1 pound, 10 ounces.
"Prayer had so much to do with where we are today," said Talia's dad, A.J. Thompson. "We had so many people praying for us — people we knew, people we didn't know, people from all over the state, country and world."
Maria had bronchitis and the flu last winter, which developed into a severe case of acute respiratory distress syndrome. If left untreated, ARDS is life-threatening, as fluid builds up in your lungs. Maria ultimately developed preeclampsia — and by late March, her liver and kidneys started to fail.
Her body was rejecting her baby.
"It was pretty unusual," said Dr. Caroline Quill, a pulmonary and critical care doctor who treated Maria at the University of Rochester Medical Center. "We talk a lot about the critically ill pregnant patient, but you don't actually see it all that often."
Upon arrival at Strong, Quill said she and the family spoke about all potential options for Maria, who was then 23 weeks pregnant. Doctors emphasized that "mom comes first" and focused on treating Maria, who was in a medically induced coma, while constantly communicating with the hospital's obstetrical and neonatal teams.
"She arrived at just at the right time," Quill said. "Had she arrived even six hours later, we'd be in big trouble."
Approximately 14,500 babies are born in the Finger Lakes region each year. One in 12 of those babies spend their first days in the NICU at UR Medicine's Golisano Children's Hospital. Talia, born at 26 weeks, was among the most premature.
Within a day of delivering Talia, Maria started making great strides, her husband said. She was removed from a ventilator and rapidly improved. Since her pregnancy was no longer a factor, doctors could focus solely on treating Maria while a separate team then turned to Talia in the NICU.
"I literally went to sleep and woke up a month later and all of this had happened," Maria said, crediting her husband for making "all the right decisions" in her and Talia's care.
Maria and A.J. were already parents to two young girls before Talia arrived. Emma is now 5 and Annabelle is 2.
Maria was hospitalized for nearly five weeks, including her time spent in physical therapy as she relearned to walk and eat, she said. Talia stayed nearly four months in the NICU, with more than half of her logged days assisted by a ventilator, A.J. said. Talia was discharged July 25, about three weeks after her original due date.
"It was a tough balancing act, caring for two kids at home and being at the hospital for my wife and daughter," A.J. said. "I wouldn't have been able to do any of it without family. We are truly blessed."
Once Maria was discharged, she said, family amenities such as the hospital's Sibling Clubhouse became staples for the family as they traveled between their home and the hospital. Talia's big sisters spent hours at the play area for siblings of hospitalized children while their parents tended to the baby.
Now nearly 14 months old, Talia is flourishing.
"She's amazing and just so happy," Maria said.
She overcame kidney failure, an underdeveloped heart and preemie lung disease. She also survived two brain bleeds, which she suffered at birth, said Dr. Julie Riccio, a neonatologist who cared for Talia. Doctors were also concerned Talia may be blind because her eyes were also underdeveloped. While hospitalized, Talia received injections to treat the eye disease. Today, she doesn't even need glasses.
"To hear she is doing well now and blossoming is quite a feat," Riccio said.
Talia now weighs 16 pounds. She continues to have some sensory issues and is overstimulated easily, a side effect of her preemie status, Maria said.
"We just beat so many odds," Maria said. "She's a peanut and behind on developmental milestones. But she's our miracle."