Meghan Hope Pacyna's tiny hand wrapped tightly around her mother's finger Tuesday afternoon as the baby slept soundly outside the family care unit of Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove.
Wearing a pink dress and occasionally opening her eyes wide before drifting back to sleep, Meghan appeared to be a normal newborn ready to go home to Schaumburg for the first time.
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But just hours before she was discharged, her parents and nearly a dozen doctors and nurses reflected on how 5-month-old, 7-pound Meghan is a miracle in so many ways.
"We didn't know whether or not we'd have her home before Christmas, so to have her home a couple weeks before is amazing," said Meghan's father, Mark Pacyna.
Meghan was born July 9, shortly after her mother's water broke during her baby shower in Downers Grove. The baby was 17 weeks premature, weighing a mere 15 ounces and measuring only 8 inches long. Her father's wedding ring slipped easily over her arm.
"When she was born, none of us were sure how long she was going to live because the survival (rate for babies born at 23 weeks) is about 10 percent," said neonatologist Dr. Vibhaben Thaker. "We all thought that she had a few minutes, to a few hours, to a few days. And then she was a strong baby and she just made it. That was a miracle that she made it."
René Pacyna said she believes one reason her daughter is doing so well is the power of prayer.
"She's been on prayer lists at many, many churches," she said. "Everyone has been praying for this baby and praying for us as a family just to get through this."
Meghan is the couple's first child, a miracle in itself as they had struggled multiple times to have a baby and eventually decided this would be their last time trying.
Every day, René would drive to the hospital from Schaumburg and stay with Meghan for hours on end, watching her battle through numerous complications, including weak lungs, an eye disorder and a nearly fatal blood clot in her abdomen.
"They were very realistic, but they were also optimistic," Thaker said. "They knew things could go wrong, but they also had so much bravery and so much family support and so much faith in everything, in God. I said, 'If a miracle doesn't happen to this family, what other family will it happen to?'"
René and Mark said they can't express how thankful they are to the hospital's neonatal staff for helping them through the trying time.
"God speaks through these people right here, truly," René said, motioning to the smiling doctors and nurses ready to send Meghan home without any monitors and in overall good health. "When I just, emotionally, felt like I couldn't stand one more second, they would somehow pick me up and say, 'I'll see you tomorrow.'"
The couple said they got into the mindset of living day by day -- never thinking about yesterday or worrying about tomorrow. Now, though, they are looking forward to a quiet Christmas with Meghan.
"We're going to get a big portion of our life back," Mark said. "It's going to continue to be a big challenge, so I don't want to say the burden's been lifted, but it's fantastic being at this point."