Photo: Novie Simone Calloway was born nearly four months premature. (Photo by Joshua Sudock/UCLA Health)
Pregnant with her third child, Shawnet Smith was taking a break from her fledgling Atlanta hair and nail business and visiting family in South Los Angeles when the unfathomable happened – her severely premature baby was on its way, and they needed help.
Novie Simone Calloway was born nearly four months early on Oct. 21, 2020, at Dignity Health California Hospital Medical Center. Weighing just more than a pound, the baby – known as a micro-preemie – was placed in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit.
A week later, swelling and tenderness increased in Novie’s abdomen. Tests confirmed a perforated intestine, a condition common in premature babies, whose digestive tracts, circulatory, respiratory and other systems are underdeveloped and susceptible to damage.
Thanks to a relationship between UCLA Health and Dignity Health, experts in treating this condition quickly collaborated on a surgery and stabilized the baby. Additional surgeries followed over several weeks, all performed by UCLA pediatric surgeons at California Hospital Medical Center near downtown Los Angeles. The surgeries included a delicate procedure to close a blood vessel millimeters away from the tiny baby’s heart.
After five months in the hospital, little Novie had grown to a healthy seven pounds and was discharged in her mothers’ arms. Shawnet Smith remembers the date.
“I left with her on March 16. It felt so good,” Smith said, describing her emotions as a mixture of elation and shock. “It was realization that I could really feel like her mom, of taking her home, feeding her by myself and holding her without all the tubes and medical equipment.”
“Babies born prematurely – especially micro-preemies – require high levels of care offered by multiple specialists,” said Steven Lee, MD, chief of pediatric surgery at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital, who helped treat Novie. “The collaboration between UCLA surgeons and the neonatal intensive care team at California Hospital Medical Center was instrumental in the baby’s health and tremendously gratifying.”
UCLA Health has agreements with many other hospitals across Southern California, which increases access to care.
Smith, 25, said she appreciated medical professionals carefully describing the procedures needed to address the complications faced by her baby.
“What was important to me was all the information,” she said. “If I didn’t understand it, they provided materials and were very patient about explaining things. They did awesome.”
Today, Smith is thinking about her future. The father of her three children – Novie’s siblings are boys, age 5 and 2 – has relocated from Atlanta, and they’re looking for a place together in Los Angeles, close to her relatives.
Find out more about Mattel Children's Hospital.