They were told their newborn could die within days. 11 months later, she's still here.

How would you react if you were told that your baby wouldn't survive through her first month of life?

Heather and Nathan Peterson can tell you, because that's exactly what happened to them.


Heather and Nathan. All photos are from Nathan Peterson and used with permission.

Everything started off pretty well for the Illinois couple. They had three healthy children, started a music group together called Hello Industry, and were ready to welcome a fourth child into the world.

But after Heather returned from a routine doctor's appointment, their world came crashing down.

Their unborn daughter was diagnosed with a serious chromosomal condition called trisomy 18, or Edwards syndrome — which means three copies of chromosome 18 are present instead of two. Children with this disorder may experience trouble with their vital organs, and the prognosis is usually not favorable.

Studies show that only 50% of trisomy 18 babies will survive birth if carried to term. Even if that hurdle is cleared, the sad reality is many of these babies will die within their first month of life. Under 10% of them survive to witness their first birthday.

It was starting to sink in for Heather and Nathan.

No parent wants to receive a grim diagnosis about their child.

"The doctor was sure she wouldn't make it very far," Nathan told me. "But we focused on the fact that she was alive today, even in the womb."

Against the odds, the couple were able to welcome their baby girl to the world.

They named her Olivia.

Olivia was born alive, but how much time would she have?

They cherished every moment with Olivia. But in the back of their minds, they knew that she could be taken from them any moment.

But their baby survived through her first day, her first week ... and she blew everyone away by surviving through her first month of life.

The lovely Olivia sleeping peacefully.

Month after month passed, and this girl kept defying the odds and kept thriving.

Now she's 11 months old and still going strong.

"She surprised everyone by living this long, and she's doing very well right now," said proud dad Nathan. "She's eating, breathing, learning, dancing, and smiling."

Here's the proof.

Olivia is one happy kid.

Nathan and Heather curb their optimism about the future and focus solely on the important thing: right now.

"I suppose the diagnosis is still the same," Nathan lamented. "We're trying to stick with the discipline we had while she was still in the womb: She's alive today."

Nathan does not take a moment for granted with his baby.

Smita Malhotra, a pediatrician based in Pasadena, California, has delivered the trisomy 18 diagnosis to parents.

Giving bad news is the worst part of her job, but she's quick to say that no matter how bad it may seem, anything is possible.

"As a parent, you feel incredibly helpless when you receive life-changing news about your child," said Malhotra, who co-owns a medical clinic in Pasadena. "As a physician, it's important to provide a diagnosis and prognosis from our clinical experience but at the same time, understand that resilience and incredible power of the human spirit gives us hope."

The only gift the Petersons want this holiday season is to spend today with Olivia.

To this family, a week seems like an eternity. Moments are measured in precious seconds and minutes.

In a society where everyone moves so fast, Nathan wants to share one important message with the world: Slow down and enjoy it.

"Live life. I know that sounds overly simplified and cliche, but personally I've spent a good portion of my life not doing it," he admitted. "I was afraid to name Olivia when she was in the womb. It made it more real and it would hurt more to lose her. But living that day meant giving her a name. Fear is always trying to stop us from living. Every single day, I make the continuous and sometimes difficult decision to really live."

"I was afraid to name Olivia when she was in the womb. It made it more real and it would hurt more to lose her. But living that day meant giving her a name."

On those days when we don't feel like getting out of bed, we should think of Olivia. Medical professionals said that her time on this earth could have lasted as long as it took you to read this article. Yet she's still here almost a year later.

Let's make the decision to love the good, bad, and ugly parts of today, because in reality, today is all we have.

Olivia will be happy you did.


Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

Keep Reading Show less
Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less