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This 16-Month Old Has Beaten the Odds and Set a New World Record

Curtis Zy-Keith Means, born at 21 weeks, is the world’s most premature baby to survive.
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By Nehal Aggarwal, Editor
Published November 15, 2021
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Image: Getty Images

Curtis Zy-Keith Means, now 16 months old, has set a new world record for the world’s most premature baby to survive.

Curtis’ mom, Michelle Butler, gave birth on July 5, 2020 at 21 weeks at the University of Alabama at Birmingham hospital (UAB). She delivered Curtis, who weighed 14.8 ounces at birth, and his twin C’Asya Means, 132 days premature (close to 19 weeks early).

According to experts, many babies born so prematurely have slim chances of survival. Despite the odds, Curtis, who required around-the-clock care for months, excelled in treatment and became stronger with time. C’Asya, however, did not respond to the treatment and passed away a day after her birth.

“Numbers show that babies born so young have little to no chances of survival,” Brian Sims, MD, the attending physician and professor of pediatrics in the UAB Division of Neonatology, said in a statement. “We typically advise for compassionate care in situations of such extremely preterm births. This allows the parents to hold their babies and cherish what little time they may have together.”

Curtis spent 275 days (close to nine months) in the Regional Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (RNICU) before he was discharged. He was cared for by a large team, including nurses, speech therapists who helped him learn to use his mouth and eat, respiratory therapists who helped support his breathing as he came off the breathing machine and many others. According to Colm Travers, MD, assistant professor in the Division of Neonatology at UAB, the team was able to take Curtis off the ventilator when he was around three months old.

“He was the youngest baby anyone had worked with, but we are a level 4 RNICU and knew we had the resources and expertise to support Curtis and his mom,” Sumita Gray, an RNICU nurse on Curtis’ team, also said in a statement. “We were determined to see him go home.”

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Curtis was discharged from the hospital on April 6, 2021. “Being able to finally take Curtis home and surprise my older children with their younger brother is a moment I will always remember,” Butler said. “It was a difficult journey, but I am grateful for the UAB team and their constant support. They took the time to educate me and made sure I knew what was happening every step of the way. They truly cared about my son and me.”

The team at UAB believed that Curtis may be the youngest baby born to survive in the world and, with Butler’s permission, reached out to Guinness World Records. Six months after Curtis was discharged, on November 10, his care team at UAB surprised Butler and Curtis with a certificate from Guinness World Records citing Curtis as the world’s most premature baby to survive. Had he been born at term, Curtis’ first birthday would have been on November 11. November is aptly also Prematurity Awareness Month.

According to the Guinness World Records, the previous record holder was Richard Hutchinson, from Wisconsin, who was born 131 days premature on June 5, 2020. Before him, James Elgin Gill of Canada, born on May 20, 1987 at 128 days premature, had held the record for 34 years.

Now at 16 months old, Curtis is happy and healthy. “He is truly the world’s N=1 baby,” Sims said. “We do not know what all the future will hold for Curtis since there is no one else like him. He started writing his own story the day he was born. That story will be read and studied by many and, hopefully, will help improve care of premature infants around the world.”

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