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The City Journals

Miracle Baby Zariah Celebrates Her First Birthday

Oct 04, 2016 04:18PM ● By Mylinda LeGrande

Zariah is held by her parents, Shawn and Vilayvone. (Matt Stone - Four Cameras Photography)

By Mylinda LeGrande | [email protected]

Zariah Donovan was born at 23 weeks, Sept. 13, 2015. She weighed a mere 1 pound, 6 ounces. She was given a 15 percent chance of living beyond birth and has fought pneumonia, open heart surgery and 12 blood transfusions to live. 

Last year, when her mother, Vilayvone, went into premature labor, she was turned away by two hospitals. This was because premature infants born at 24 weeks weren’t considered viable. Instead, she was flown to Primary Children’s Hospital, where delivered her daughter Zariah. It took eight minutes for doctors to get her breathing.

“Everyone told us that she wasn’t going to make it,” said Vilayvone. “We were told that if she did live, she’d be blind, have cerebral palsy [or] she’d be disabled. But we could see that her eyes were perfect; we could see that there was hope.” 

Seven months later, after a collapsed lung and a severe case of bronchopulmonary dysplasia (a chronic lung condition affecting premature babies with undeveloped lungs) and chronic lung disease, Zariah was given zero chance to live. Her parents were asked to take Zariah off life support over a dozen times. 

Zariah kept fighting, but this summer, Zariah had to be medically paralyzed to allow her lungs to heal. There was a chance she wouldn’t make it past the procedure. Because of this, the couple decided they would have their wedding in Zariah’s room in the ICU on July 22, before they moved their daughter to Ohio for further treatment.

They were married by a hospital chaplain with family members gathered around.

“[We] were thinking that if Zariah wasn’t going to make it, we all wanted to be together,” said Shawn. There were such mixed emotions happiness and love with the nightmare of not knowing whether Zariah would be alive the next morning. We always wanted the perfect wedding, but we were limited with time to plan this special day.”

Today, Zariah is doing much better. She is currently at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio (her sixth hospital). It’s been almost a year since Zariah was born. Her father, Shawn Donovan, who works at a South Jordan Health club, took a leave from his job to be able to care for his daughter full time. This enabled him to have skin-to-skin contact with his daughter which keep her calm enough to not fight her ventilator. 

“I rubbed her head, held her hand and started doing some Reiku massage, and it seemed to help,” Shawn said. “So I kept it going, eight to 15 hours a day, sometimes.” 

On Sept. 13, Zariah celebrated her first birth, defying the odds. She is still in Ohio receiving specialized care for her lung conditions and her father is still by her side. Vilayvone, a pharmacist, continues to work in Utah since has a better health insurance plan than Shawn. She also cares for her older daughter, Raven, with help from their mother-in-law. 

Zariah will have another year of treatment to develop her lungs so she can leave the hospital.

“It’s hard to be so many miles apart, but seeing how much Zariah has improved keeps me going,” said Shawn. “She’s fought every inch of the way and has completely changed the value of life for me. Waking up and breathing is something that we all take for granted. I can’t imagine not being by her side.” 

Zariah has been doing great since she was transferred to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in July. She has been weaned off two-thirds of the medications and steroids she was on in Utah. Her oxygen need was at 80–100 percent in Utah and now is as low as 28 percent. She is doing CPAP trials (breathing without assisted breaths from the vent). The doctors here have given Zariah an A+ for her recovery ever since she got here. They are very impressed with her speed of recovery. 

Yesterday the family had a huge party. They received 150 presents and 50 birthday cards that had been mailed to Zariah. She got to do a smash cake and was dressed like a princess. Best of all, her mom, Vilayvone came to see her for her birthday. She is able to fly to see Zaria one time per month, and her dad flies home to see Raven one time per month. 

Visit to see Zariah’s GoFundMe page.