Their story is our story.

Miraculous birth by today’s standards took place in 1982

When Neil Harrison was born, he weighed in at a mere 930 grams–or slightly more than a pound and a half. The son and first child of Deborah and Will Harrison, Neil was–at the time–the youngest surviving baby to be born at St. Charles Bend. Even by modern standards of neonatal care, Neil’s chance of survival at that early age would only be 80 percent, and he’d be faced with a 75 percent chance of a long-term disability.

What’s so most remarkable, then, about Neil’s birth story was the year in which he was born: 1982.

At 26 weeks pregnant, Deborah Harrison called her doctor to let her know she wasn’t feeling well. Though she didn’t realize it at the time, she was having symptoms of labor. Her doctor recommended that she immediately check-in at St. Charles.

“I was in complete denial and shock,” said Deborah. “I kept thinking, ‘I’m 26 weeks, I cannot be in labor.’”

For three days, a team of doctors and nurses worked around the clock to prevent Deborah from having her baby so soon.

“Anyone involved in my case was there all the time checking in on me, talking through all the possibilities,” she recalled. “They said, ‘We’ve never delivered a baby this young.  But we’ll do everything we can.’”

Doctors’ prediction for Neil was grim: the odds were 50-50 that he’d survive being born at 26 weeks.

After three days of labor, Deborah’s health began to deteriorate. Her doctors recommended that she be flown to a children’s hospital in Portland, which was better equipped to deal with premature babies. But Deborah chose to stay at St. Charles.

Hours later, on May 19, Neil was born. He was whisked away to a makeshift neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU, and in her utter exhaustion Deborah didn’t know whether her baby was still alive.

“All the staff was so unbelievable,” Deborah said, choking up as she recounted the story, “doing everything they possibly could to save him.”

Early on, Neil’s fragile grip on life was touch-and-go. He faced numerous complications.  

“It happened on several occasions that we called in the priest,” Deborah remembered. “To this day, it’s just a miracle.”

After three months at the hospital and weighing in at 3 ½ pounds, the Harrisons were finally able to take their baby home.

Though he was a late bloomer physically and required glasses as a youngster, Neil’s record-setting birth would have few long-lasting effects on his quality of life.

The Harrisons later relocated to Portland, where Neil graduated from Sunset High School and earned an associate’s degree from Portland Community College.

Now 35, Neil says the only major complication he’s experienced as an adult was a detached retina, which he had surgically repaired when he was 20.

Even by 2018 standards, Neil’s birth remains a remarkable story of faith and determination when faced with long odds.

“Its an interesting conversation starter, that’s for sure,” said Neil. “People are just amazed by it.”

“There were four pediatricians, and they kept telling me that though they’d never saved a baby this size, they were committed to doing everything they could. They said, ‘Emmanuel was the best place to be.’ I prayed about it, and said: ‘I have faith in all of you, and I’m not leaving this hospital.’ With the quality of care I was getting, I just knew it was the right place to be. That’s why I chose not to leave.”


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Date: February 12, 2017
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