'Miracle' baby beats odds at Naperville's Edward Hospital

Before he was born, doctors said Manuel Pena Hernandez had no chance to survive. They were wrong.

Just before he was born, doctors told Manuel Daniel Pena-Hernandez's parents his odds of surviving were worse than slim. They were zero.

Their baby entered the world 15 weeks early, weighing just 1 pound, 4 oz., with his intestines, stomach and liver outside his body.

That condition — gastroschisis — occurs in one of every 5,000 births. It's treatable, but never had doctors at Edward Hospital in Naperville done so in a baby this premature and this small.

“We had given (the baby's mother) a 0 percent chance of survival, but I also told her, we are a very hopeful unit and we will try our best,” said Dr. Deanna Duray, a neonatologist.

“We see a lot of miracles in our unit,” Duray said. “Looking at those statistics, he really is a miracle.”

Six months and seven surgeries later, the baby everyone calls “Manny the Manster” is a plump-cheeked, 12-pounder who couldn't be cuter in his tiny Chicago Bears T-shirt.

His parents, Angela Hernandez and Wilbert Pena, brought him home Tuesday to her mother's house in East Dundee, decorated with a “Welcome home, Manny” banner and balloons.

“I can't even find the words to describe how I'm feeling right now,” Pena said just before leaving the hospital.

The TV cameras were there, and so was Naperville Mayor George Pradel, but not by virtue of his position. Manny's grandmother is Pradel's niece.

“I held him yesterday,” Pradel said, beaming. “He's a solid little guy.”

Immediately after birth, Manny was whisked to Edward Hospital's Newborn Intensive Care Unit. To protect against infection, his intestines were wrapped in protective plastic while gravity gradually moved his organs back into his abdominal cavity. When Manny was a week old, surgeons closed the opening in his tiny tummy.

That was just the first hurdle. Manny and his family still faced a scary prognosis.

Complications of gastroschisis include feeding problems and reflux, made even more severe by Manny's prematurity. The baby was fed through an IV, but that can be toxic to the liver. Manny's liver started to fail. Even the whites of his eyes turned yellow.

“It was a little touch-and-go for a while,” Duray said.

Manny's doctors sought FDA approval to administer Omegaven, a fish-oil drug from Germany. It took seven weeks to get the drug, but it reversed Manny's liver injury.

And as recently as a month ago, doctors thought he might need a tube in his trachea. But his most recent surgery, to tighten the area between his esophagus and stomach, turned things around for him, Duray said.

Right now, Manny is fed through a tube in his stomach instead of an IV and still gets “a smidge,” as Duray describes it, of oxygen.

But eventually, doctors expect, he will be able to eat food the regular way.

Manny will be receiving intensive speech, physical and developmental therapy as an outpatient. Long-term side effects might include lingering reflux issues, gastrointestinal problems or complications of prematurity, such as cerebral palsy. But as far as doctors can tell now, Manny looks good.

During the past few weeks, he's been a more sociable baby, showing more interest in his surroundings, babbling and cooing and sucking vigorously on his pacifier.

Angela Hernandez remembered the doctor's frightening words about her unborn baby's odds when she was hospitalized for premature labor.

“I was scared,” Hernandez said. “Was he going to make it?”

Now, she was bringing him home just in time to celebrate his 6-month birthday on Jan. 19 — the baby who survived despite almost insurmountable medical odds.

“It was definitely a team effort,” Duray said. “We're so excited for Manny and his family.”

  Manuel Daniel Pena-Hernandez leaves Edward Hospital with his parents, Angela Hernandez and Wilbert Pena, and with some help from NICU nurse Lisa McCombs. Tanit jarusan/
  Naperville Mayor George Pradel plays with baby Manny, who is his niece’s grandson. “It’s a miracle,” Pradel said. “For six months, we were hoping and praying.” Tanit jarusan/
A plastic “silo” protects baby Manuel’s intestines and other organs as they gradually ease back into the abdominal cavity. Courtesy of Edward Hospital
The baby known affectionately as “Manny the Manster” endured seven surgeries and liver failure to beat long odds. Courtesy of Edward Hospital