In November 1997, an ultrasound indicated the Austins’ baby had acongenital diaphragmatic hernia, or CDH. Their doctor explained that CDH was a birth defect of the diaphragm. The condition causes the abdominal organs to push against the lungs, which restricts breathing. The Austins were immediately referred to Children’s Hospital of Illinois
Between Mercedez’s CDH and her mom Rebecca’s preeclampsia—a condition in which pregnant women develop high blood pressure and other health problems—baby and mother were becoming sicker by the minute. An early delivery was essential to save them both.
Mercedez entered the world on January 9, 1998, weighing 5 pounds, 9 ounces. She underwent immediate surgery to repair her diaphragm. “I didn’t hear her cry or hold her until she was 1 month old,” Rebecca says. “CDH was so new at that time, the doctors didn’t think she would survive.” Mercedez beat the odds, however, and was able to go home without a breathing tube. She has gone on to live a life her parents didn’t think possible.
What’s more, Mercedez already seems to have wisdom beyond her years. “Just because something is wrong, that doesn’t mean you stop living,” Mercedez says. “You have to face things and overcome them.”
Mercedez now attends regular checkups at the CDH Clinic at Children’s Hospital, one of only eight such clinics in the country.