Skip to main content

The City Journals

Once given zero percent chance of survival, SoJo toddler finally home after 3 years in NICU

Mar 22, 2019 10:24AM ● By Jennifer Gardiner

Zariah in the arms of her dad and mom while in the NICU. (Photo Courtesy Donovan family)

By Jennifer Gardiner | [email protected] 

Zariah Donovan is not your ordinary 3-year-old. 

In fact, many would say she has been more than extraordinary since the day she was born. Weighing only 1 pound 6 ounces when she entered the world on Sept. 13, 2015, Zariah, who after being given a zero percent chance of survival, came home after spending three years and four months in the hospital. 

Zariah started her journey after being born at just 23 weeks. No one knew at the time, but her tiny little body was about to conquer the struggle of a lifetime and inspire thousands of people across the world.

When she was born, doctors told Zariah’s parents, Shawn Donovan and V. Thipsouvan of South Jordan, their daughter only had a 15 percent chance of survival and faced the possibility of a plethora of medical issues including, among other things, blindness, hearing loss and cerebral palsy. 

Zariah’s father said the last three years have been a roller coaster.

“Our little fighter has endured and conquered many trials over the last three years,” he said. “She has triumphed over heart surgery at three weeks of age, pneumonias, 12 blood transfusions, sepsis and lung collapse.”

Despite being told numerous times that Zariah was not going to make it, she continued to push through every obstacle. But in 2016, Zariah’s parents were given the devastating news their little girl had the worst case of chronic lung disease the hospital had seen, and her chance of survival was zero percent in Utah. 

In a move that would end up saving Zariah’s life, Shawn gave up his career to be with his daughter around the clock while V. stayed back in Utah to take care of their other daughter, Raven.

Now hundreds of miles away in Columbus, Ohio, Zariah’s condition started to improve.

“Zariah went from a medically paralyzed and sedated baby to a smiling, interactive and thriving child,” said Shawn. “This 1,700-mile move gave Zariah a 96 percent chance of survival.”

In December, Zariah and her family were told it was finally time for her to start her next journey, home to Utah. Although it would be a challenge to make the transition, with a plan in place, Zariah made her way to Primary Children’s Hospital, where she stayed until February. Then, after 1,237 days, her family was finally home together for the first time.

Zariah showing off her mischievous smile. (Photo Courtesy Donovan family)

 Zariah’s journey continues with many challenges to overcome, but her father says she is working on taking steps and walking.  

“Our future holds extensive speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy,” said Shawn. “We know she will able to overcome these developmental challenges with the help of OT, PT and speech therapy.” 

Shawn says they do everything possible to to keep Zariah healthy by preventing her from getting sick.

“Something as small as the common cold can send us back to the PICU,” said Shawn. “In a perfect world we are hoping to have Zariah off the vent in roughly two years. At that time, she will be able to run around like a normal little girl.” 

Shawn says being home has new hurdles to overcome, but overall Zariah is thriving at home. 

“Big sister Raven loves playing with sissy,” said Shawn. “It has been hard on our family taking on all of Zariah’s medical cares, but with help from friends, family, neighbors and from the church we have been able to stay strong through this transition.” 

The journey has not come without its fair share of costs, however. Medical bills, therapy and having to convert their home into their own NICU has been costly. For anyone wishing to help, there is a GoFundMe (www.gofundme.com/ZariahStrong) where the family continues to provide updates on Zariah’s progress. Those interested in following her journey can also follow them at www.facebook.com/ZariahStrong

Zariah continues to show the world her strength and her father says her perseverance has been life-changing to so many.

“We are so blessed to call her our daughter. Her light and strength lifts us up during the unbearable moments,” said Shawn. “She has reminded us to treasure and celebrate every moment. We know in our heart that she can overcome anything. We continue to witness miracles daily.”