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How Fiona is inspiring mothers of preemies

How Fiona is inspiring mothers of preemies (WKRC)

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - She captivated the attention of the world and now a baby hippo at the Cincinnati Zoo continues to be an inspiration to human families, many who shared the same health challenges when they were born early.

The families with premature babies who knew the obstacles Fiona the baby hippo would have to fight to overcome were undoubtedly her first fans.

Prenatal specialists at St. Elizabeth Healthcare help share just what it takes for babies, and baby hippos, to survive against the odds.

“I was the first one to pick her [Fiona] up when she was born,” said Christina Gorsuch, the Curator of Mammals at the Cincinnati Zoo.

You can think of it as picking up a 29-pound miracle. Miss Fiona, as she's now known, put Christina Gorsuch and a team of animal experts at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Gardens in full emergency mode when she was born six weeks early.

“We knew that no hippo calves had survived, there was no information, about hippo calves being born early surviving,” said Gorsuch.

Her “premie” concerns included her weight, which should have been close to 80 pounds and her body temperature. Humans had to help her stay warm.

“We picked her up and we just had her bundled in blankets,” said Gorsuch.

Part of the reason that this story is important to share is that many around the world could relate to Fiona's story, for a very specific reason. Many of the challenges she went through as a “premie” were the same as the ones that a lot of humans go through as well.

“We've been watching videos of baby Fiona, following her whole story,” said Kaylee.

Kaylee and her 2-year-old daughter Madeline followed Fiona’s story and so did Monica Hurd. Her daughter Kennedy was being nurtured inside a neonatal intensive care unit.

“Three months, she was born six weeks early,” said Monica.

One of the biggest challenges for baby Kennedy was eating. “Because when they are that preterm they have trouble breathing, swallowing and sucking all at the same time,” said Monica.

To get Kennedy’s weight up, her mom started breast feeding right away.

“She had a tube in her nose for anything that she did not get out of me,” said Monica.

For Miss Fiona however…

“There's not a ‘go buy a hippo formula off the shelf’ situation,” said Gorsuch.

So Fiona’s care team had to take her mother’s milk and have a lab develop a similar formula and deliver it the same way baby Kennedy was fed.

“She had eight feedings a day,” said Gorsuch.

And remember the humans that had to fill in her care when Fiona’s mom could not?

“I can sense their fears, their excitements, their frustrations,” said Stefanie Clarke, a registered nurse.

One of the fears of both care teams is those milestones of their heartrates, their respiratory rate, and their oxygen rate as well as cognitive growth and development, which for Fiona meant, once out of her human environment, would she know how to behave as a hippo?

Sure enough Miss Fiona figured that out as she got up to her ideal weight of 87 pounds.

“And she's hit every milestone since then as if she was born on schedule,” said Gorsuch.

As for baby Kennedy who's up from five pounds four ounces to almost double her weight.

You can compare ten pound Kennedy against five hundred pound Fiona and it's amazing how their success can be described much in the same way.

Baby Kennedy is now doing great and so is baby Fiona, who is expected to weigh 3,000 pounds as an adult.

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