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Volleyball - photo from The Forum

Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo EditorHope Levos performs volleyball drills with her team prior to a game Sept. 21 in Casselton, N.D. Hope weighed just 15.6 ounces at birth. Now 13, she is a seventh grader at Central Cass. 

(see reference: Photo republished with permission of The Forum of Fargo Moorhead.)


Little miracles

The Forum follows up on six stories of prematurity we’ve told over the years
The tiniest babies tell the biggest stories. Stories of courage and strength, faith and love. They embody in their tiny frames the will to live.

The tiniest babies tell the biggest stories. Stories of courage and strength, faith and love. They embody in their tiny frames the will to live.

Over the years, The Forum has told many stories of babies born too soon. The Red River Valley has reached out repeatedly to such families with care and compassion.

Today, we look back at six of these stories and where the families are now.

Each baby started out life in the neonatal intensive care unit with early days and even months filled with uncertainty. Now each family reports a pretty “normal” existence and relishes in their regular routines.

Like Hope Levos, who at her smallest weighed 14 ounces and now plays on the Central Cass junior high volleyball team. Or the Christoffers of Moorhead, who as third-graders do homework and practice piano.

Greta Tangquist loves to dress up like a princess. Callie Medders is a big sister. Andrew Skalicky holds his own bottle. The Jensen quads from Ogema, Minn., are typical 2-year-olds.

All things considered, these preemies now have very few medical issues. Each family realizes not all preterm births have as happy of endings, and are thankful for their little miracles.

(see reference: Article republished with permission of The Forum of Fargo Moorhead.)


Little Miracles

David Samson/The ForumHope Levos

  • Born: Nov. 27, 1996, at 24 weeks
  • Weight at birth: 15.6 ounces
  • Parents: Tom and Brenda Levos, Leonard, N.D.
  • Then: Hope spent four months in the hospital after her birth, and another three months beginning late summer 2007. Her parents rented an apartment in Fargo to accommodate the 24/7 nursing care she needed.

    The Levos family prepared for the possibility that Hope would struggle with lifelong physical and mental disabilities. There simply wasn’t a lot of reliable statistical information available.

    “At one point, the doctor said she’d never run and play like other kids,” Brenda said.

  • Now: Hope is No. 1 on the Central Cass Junior High volleyball team. The uniform was the smallest one the school had, Brenda said.

    Hope, a redheaded seventh-grader with freckles, is petite, but has no lingering medical issues, Brenda said. “She visits the clinic far less than most kids, I think,” she said.

    Brenda is writing a book about their experiences. Two days a week, she volunteers to rock babies at the Sanford NICU.

    Sometimes as they watch Hope’s games, Tom will jokingly mouth that doctor’s words to Brenda.

    “She’s headstrong and she’s a fighter,” Brenda said. “She’s just a happy, vibrant, hardworking young woman.”

(see reference: Article republished with permission of The Forum of Fargo Moorhead.)


'God's miracle' shining

Born premature at 14 ounces, Hope Levos exudes the energy of any little 3-year-old as her parents, Brenda, left and Tom, and her 2-year-old sister, Megan, look on at their Leonard home. Born 14 ounces, Leonard girl full of zest at age 3

by Cole Short/The Forum

LEONARD, N.D. — Hope flashes a wide grin and bounds across her family's living room in hot pursuit of a red balloon.

The bright-eyed, bubbly girl twists, giggles and gives up chasing the elusive balloon. She'd rather catapult herself off the livingroom couch.

"Hope, be caaaaaareful," her mother, Brenda chides.

Hope ignores the warning and continues to jump and flop across the cushy sofa.

Brenda and her husband, Tom, aren't mad. Actually, they're thankful.

The couple says it's hard to believe their bustling, growing daughter was once smaller than her doctor's hand.

Hope weighed 14 ounces when she was bon on Thanksgiving eve 1996.

The tiny infant, dubbed "God's miracle" by her doctor, was born nearly 15 weeks premature and was so small she could wear Tom's wedding ring as a bracelet.

The rural Leonard girl will celebrate her fourth birthday Monday and shows few visible signs of her incredible birth or slow road to recovery.

"She's gone beyond all of our expectations," Tom says. "She's doing everything a normal little kid does."

In the fall 1996, Brenda was diagnosed with HELLP (hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes and low platelet count) syndrome.

The unique form of pre-eclampsia, a toxic condition developing in late pregnancy, caused Brenda's blood pressure to spike and liver and kidneys to fail. It forced doctors to deliver her baby Hope nearly 15 weeks premature.

Brenda Levos holds her daughter Hope wile the toddler takes a break from her playtime activities. Colburn Hvidston III/The ForumAt 14 ounces, Hope weighed 1 1/2 ounces more than the smallest known infant to survive premature birth.

Hope endured repeated surgeries her first year. She breathed with the help of an oxygen machines and was taking 13 different medications when she went home the following March.

"It was an extremely difficult time," Brenda says. "It isn't easy to see your child go through that. I had to sign paper after paper saying 'Yeah, you can do that to her.'"

By her first birthday, Hope weighed 14 pounds and had undergone three surgeries for lung-related problems.

At age 2, she had grown to nearly 20 pounds and was breathing without an oxygen mask. By then, the lone sign of her lingering health problems was a tracheostomy, a tube in her neck helping her breathe.

Today, Hope weighs 30 pounds, below her ideal weight, but making steady progress, Brenda says.

"She's growing like crazy, but she's not as big as she should be for her age," she says.

Tom and Brenda once rented a Fargo apartment to be close to Hope's doctors and therapists.

But as Hope's weight increased the number of regular visits from the family's Leonard farmstead to MeritCare Hospital in Fargo dwindled.

"We only went once this summer, other than for regular checkups or flu shots," Brenda says.

 Hope still shows minor scars on her chest and under one arm from the seven surgeries she had as a toddler. She stands nearly 3 feet tall, roughly the same size as her 2-year-old sister, Megan.

"People think they're twins because they're the same size," Brenda says.

Hope's speech patterns are a little delayed, her mother says, partially because of the tracheostomy that limited her ability to speak.

"That slowed her down a bit," Brenda says. "But she's within a year of what she should be."

Hope attends preschool classes at Central Cass Public Schools in Casselton and should be able to start on time with her kindergarten class in two years, Tom says.

He calls Hope's first two years "a blur," one the family is glad to be past.

"I feel great that it's all behind us now," Brenda says. "Hope looks like any other child. From looking at her, you wouldn't ever guess there had been any problems with her."


Bringing home a little Hope

Brenda Levos hold her daughter Hope, born 15 weeks premature and weighing only 14 ounces at the time. Hope went home from Dakota Heartland Hospital Thursday.Parents, schooled in raising tiny infant, bring child home for the first time.

by Ellen Crawford/The Forum

Hope Levos went home to Leonard, N.D., Thursday afternoon, the first time she's been out of the hospital since she was born four months ago.

She was born the day before Thanksgiving, nearly 15 weeks early. She weighed 14 ounces, only 2 ounces more than the smallet known infant to survive premature birth. Hope wasn't any larger than the length of her doctor's hand.

Now she weighs 4 pounds 8 ounces and has a very good chance of developing normally, according to Dr. Mahesh Patel, assistant director of neonatology at Fargo's Dakota Heartland Health System.

Hope's parents, Brenda and Tom Levos, are excited to have her home and they're not overly nervous about taking care of her without the hospital staff around them.

"It shouldn't be too bad," Tom said.

Brenda said they've been helping care for Hope since she was born, so they know what they need to do. Hope's parents visited her every day, held her, fed her and learned how to read the equipment monitoring her breathing and heartbeat.

If they do need help, Brenda said they've got plenty of eager volunteers — parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and even some great-aunts and great-uncles.

Brenda and Tom spent Wednesday night with Hope in the intensive care nursery's parenting room to prepare them for being parents full time. Hope slept from 1 to 6 a.m., which Brenda thinks is an encouraging sign.

"It's kind of nice to be able to take a baby home that partially sleeps through the night." she said.

Hope went home with an oxygen machine and equipment to monitor her oxygen levels and heart rate. Patel said she still requires a very small amount of oxygen and probably will continue to need it for one to three months.

He estimates she'll need to have her heart rate monitored for three to four months. Premature babies run a slightly higher risk of dying from sudden infant death syndrome, he said.

Brenda said she and Tom are so used to Hhope's size that other babies look huge to them.

"You lose your perspective," she siad.

They've found a shop in West Fargo that carries clothes for premature babies.

"We now get the bulk discount," Brenda joked.