WEST SENECA, NY- A child's first birthday is a big milestone for every family. But it's both monumental and bittersweet for the Herman family of West Seneca, whose "miracle baby" just turned one-year-old.
Jason and Ann Herman tells WGRZ-TV's Melissa Holmes, they started trying for a baby as soon as they were married in 2012, but it was a struggle.
"Our tests basically said we had to go through IVF. So we didn't have any other options," said Ann.
Lucky for them, invetrofertilization worked on the first try.
"We were just, I was floored," said Jason.
The couple got the nursery ready, Ann started to feel the baby moving, and they even picked her name, Madison Elizabeth.
But at 17.5 weeks pregnant, Ann's water broke. When 40 weeks is full-term, that was far too soon. Ann was forced to deliver.
"She had a heartbeat right up until the end, but they had told me just the stress of delivery would make her pass. There was no chance," said Ann.
Ann and Jason said their goodbyes to Madison, gave her a proper burial, and tried to remain positive.
"We had the attitude that everything happens for a reason. There must've been a reason why something so devastating would happen," said Ann.
They discovered that reason a year later when IVF worked again, and this time they were expecting twins.
"We found out it was a boy and a girl. The perfect combo."
And everything seemed perfect until 18 weeks. Doctors discovered Ann's cervix was completely dilated and after a week of bedrest, her water broke.
"Kind of de javu all over again," said Jason.
Ann was rushed to the hospital.
When I got there, they put us in the exact same room that we were in the first time. Then all of those emotions came flooding back," said Ann. "So then things got stressful, difficult, emotional."
Ann was monitored every hour of every day for weeks in the hospital, the whole time just waiting and praying.
"We put our faith in God at that point. Sometime you just have to let go and let God do His thing and that's what we did," said Jason.
Timing was critical at this point.
"We were constantly told that you have to make it to at least 24 weeks. Every week past that is much better than the week before, but you have to make it to 24," said Ann.
24 weeks is when doctors consider a baby to be viable. But at 23 weeks and 5 days, they lost the heartbeat of their baby girl, whom they had named Addison.
"We had an ultrasound that was taken not too long before Addison had passed. And they were head to head. As if she was giving him his final marching orders," recalled Jason. "That was her probably saying, 'alright, I'm here. You're going to get to 24 weeks, and it's time for me to go."
And Jason and Ann believe Addison saved her brother's life because for days her lifeless little body was low enough in utero to block the cervix.
"She just hung out right there and blocked the way. And I feel like she was keeping him in there," said Ann. "That's what we tell ourselves. That's how we look at it. That was her mission. Give her her purpose."
Landon James Herman was born at exactly 24 weeks on July 11, 2015. He weighed 1 lb. 6 ozs., was 11 inches long, and was barely alive.
"I'm watching them try to incubate him and I'm looking at the clock and I kept thinking to myself, 'Oh my God, how much time has passed? Don't let him die here,'" said Jason. "Then finally one of the nurses said, 'Mr. Herman, would you like to meet your son?' That was the moment. "I put my finger in his hand, and he just grabbed onto it for everything he was worth. There was such a firm grip and I actually felt like he was telling me everything was going to be ok."
Sisters Hospital neonatologists Dr. Rob Dukarm and Dr. Kamal Singhal say Landon is one of the youngest and smallest babies they have ever cared for.
"That first half hour to an hour is critical and extremely critical - it's beyond extremely critical," said Dr. Dukarm.
Doctors say approximately 50 percent of babies born at 24 weeks actually survive. There were very real concerns about Landon's heart, his lungs, blindness and infection. He had a NICU nurse by his side 24 hours a day.
The Hermans said they knew their baby was in good hands.
"As the family goes through their ups and downs so do the staff, the nurses. They take what they do very personally," said NICU Nurse Manager Jean Cauley.
It was days before Jason and Ann could really touch their son, and weeks before they could hold him. It was nearly a month before Landon even reached 2 pounds. Their goal was to get him home by Halloween - his original due date - but that came and went, and so did Thanksgiving. But finally right before Christmas, they were able to bring home their most precious gift.
Landon was in the hospital 4 and a half months- 144 days.
The Sister's NICU staff said good-bye by lining a hallway and waving towels and singing as the family walked by.
Landon went home wearing a canula to help with his breathing. He wasn't allowed to see anyone other than his parents and grandparents for many more months, as doctors did not want to risk infection.
"We kept him in a bubble," recalled Jason.
Landon has grown leaps and bounds, and Jason and Ann are cherishing every minute and milestone. Landon was born in mid-July, but when compared to babies born on his due date in late October, doctors say he is where he's supposed to be.
"Everything from giggling and smiling to sitting and rolling have all been right on track," said Ann. There are no signs of delays or disabilities.
Landon's 1st birthday was spent visiting some very special people. First, they went back to Sister's Hospital to thank the doctors and nurses who kept Landon alive.
"When they come back and visit us and to see them do well, that's what motivates us and encourages our staff to keep doing what we do," said Dr. Singhal.
After the hospital, they brought Landon to the cemetery.
"He let a happy birthday balloon up in the air for his twin sister. He was babbling away before he let the balloon go. So I feel like he was singing her happy birthday," said Ann.
The name Landon means "Long Hill." It seems Landon has conquered a mountain, with his loving parents and a guardian angel by his side.
"If he can go through all that, and we can go through what we went through, I don't think there's much in this world we cant take on," said Jason.
The Hermans agreed to share their story because they want to bring hope to other couples who are struggling with fertility or caring for preemies.
"Miracles happen," said Jason.