Michael’s Story

On May 5, 2006, Michael Parrilla was brought into the world fighting for his life.

Weighing a little over 1 pound, Michael was born prematurely at 24 weeks; more than three months before his full-time due date.

The tiny infant began his life in the Neonatal intensive-care unit (NICU) where doctors and nurses kept vigilant care over him.

“It was heartwrenching to watch our son suffering, not knowing if he was going to be okay,” said Chiu Parrilla, Michael’s mother. “His father and I just hoped for the best.”

Nearly half a million babies are born prematurely every year and the number continues to rise. Although Chiu and her husband Robert knew about premature births, they never thought they would experience it first-hand.

After 4 months of around-the-clock care in the NICU, Chiu & Robert were given the okay to take Michael home and were anxious to finally celebrate the birth of their first born. But, with anticipation, also came hesitance. The first-time parents faced an overwhelming fear of learning how to care for their preemie and wondered what to expect next.

Premature babies face an increased risk of lasting disabilities, such as mental retardation, feeding issues, and learning and behavioral problems. Caring for a premature baby can be especially demanding on the family.

Michael was forced to make multiple visits to the doctor and spent more time in and out of hospitals than at home with his family. He was diagnosed with RSV-Respiratory Syncytial Virus- an infection of the lungs and breathing passages. RSV is the number one cause for sickness and hospitalizations for premature babies and often leads to other severe complications such as asthma, which Michael was also soon after diagnosed with. Almost every winter since he was born, Michael has been hospitalized due to severe infections or pneumonia.

In the midst of coping with Michael’s failing health and mounting medical bills, in 2008 the family experienced another downward spiral. Michael was diagnosed with failure to thrive, a condition which prevents children to take in, retain, or utilize the calories needed to gain weight and continue normal growth. He was once again hospitalized and placed on a g-tube to provide an alternate way for him to take in liquids. Many infants who are born prematurely have immature lungs and need breathing support. Like Michael, some develop feeding disorders because their gastrointestinal tracts are less developed.

“It was always a struggle for Michael to eat and every meal became very frustrating for all of us,” remarked Chiu. “I just wanted to get him the proper care he needed.”

Michael was losing weight rapidly and his condition became life threatning. “He was down to mere skin and bones,” said Chiu. That’s when Michael’s pediatrician referred the family to St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children’s renowned Center for Pediatric Feeding Disorders Program, the only interdisciplinary feeding program in New York State to help diagnose and treat feeding disorders.

St. Mary’s is a national leader in pediatric post-acute care for children who require unique medical care due to chronic illness, injury, or complications of premature birth. At St. Mary’s, a compassionate and highly skilled team of pediatric specialists work collaboratively to help children meet their milestones and grow and thrive.

St. Mary’s feeding therapists began working with Michael in June 2008, and since, Michael has not been using the g-tube and is meeting 100% of his nutiritonal goals. “His progress was amazing and shocking. St. Mary’s staff truly worked magic and turned my son’s conditions around,” said Chiu. Michael has matured and improved his physical, emotional, and cognitive skills while receiving occupational and physical therapy at St. Mary’s.

“It feels good to be able to have a normal family dinner together,” said Chiu. “He is finally eating healthy and actually enjoying his food.”

In New York State, where the rate of premature births is just under the national average, St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children has been one of the pioneers of programs specifically designed to help premature infant’s live longer and healthier lives through a comprehensive network of inpatient, community and homecare programs.

“We are surrounded by a supportive group of caring individuals who understand what we are going through and are able to meet our needs. We are so appreciative of everything St. Mary’s has done for us.”

Now 3 ½ years-old, Michael is currently enrolled in a special school where he continues to grow and thrive. St. Mary’s therapists still keep tabs on the family as Chiu and Robert bring Michael in for a check-up every 3 months.

“I hope all parents who are facing the challenges of caring for a preemie child learn about St. Mary’s and realize how beneficial its services really are. For me, there was no where else to turn and St. Mary’s was the only place that offered a solution that successfully worked,” Chiu said.

Note: In addition to St. Mary’s Center for Pediatric Feeding Disorders, St. Mary’s offers a variety of programs and services that address feeding issues at our dynamic therapy center on Long Island, St. Mary’s Kids at Roslyn, and as part of our home and community programs.