Michelle Butler of Eutaw, Alabama, gave birth to twins prematurely on July 5, 2020, when she was just 21 weeks pregnant. Doctors predicted that Curtis Means and his sister C’Asya would not survive. His sister died a day after birth, but the 14.8-ounce newborn boy clung to life and stunned everyone, even doctors, when his health began to improve, eventually breaking the Guinness World Record for the World’s Most Premature Infant to Survive.
“My prayers have been answered,” Butler told Good Morning America. “I gave God my little girl and he let me continue to be the mother to Curtis.”
Butler was reportedly forced to wait four weeks before she could hold Curtis while he was in the Regional Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (RNICU) at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Women and Infants Center. He was so small at the time that he fit in the palm of her hands. He spent nine months in the NICU in the end.
“He showed a lot of response to the things we were doing,” Dr. Brian Sims, the attending physician on call when Butler arrived, told GMA. “It definitely was a surprise that a baby at his age was as much of a fighter, or as strong as he was.”
“The truth is no baby has survived at this particular age,” he said. “There was no data.”
Butler, who has two other children, aged 14 and 7, visited Curtis on a weekly basis while he was being cared for by physicians and nurses. Nurses made sure to phone her with any changes and information when she couldn’t make the three-hour trek to meet him in person.
“It was ups and downs, good and bad days,” she said, according to GMA. “For a couple of weeks he’d do really well and then he’d get sick and go about five steps backward.”
Curtis graduated from the NICU in 275 days, despite the bleak prognosis. On April 6, 2021, Butler was able to bring him home, and her other children were able to see their new sibling in person for the first time.
“I surprised my kids,” Butler said. “They didn’t know we were coming home and they were so excited.”
“Being able to finally take Curtis home and surprise my older children with their younger brother is a moment I will always remember,” she said in a statement, according to ABC 7.
The family returned to the hospital six months later, where doctors presented them with the Guinness World Record certificate.
“People talk about awards and things but to see a patient who had virtually no chance of survival on paper be looking at you and smiling is one of the greatest rewards and awards that a doctor can have,” Sims said. “Curtis did most of the work, but it was an honor to be able to assist him.”
Curtis is still on a feeding tube and requires oxygen at 16 months old, though doctors anticipate he will be able to go without both in the near future.
“The good news is that all of the things that he has right now, strong babies can get off of those things, so that’s very encouraging,” Sims said. “But when we’re taking care of a baby that we’ve never had the opportunity to take care of, a lot of this will be us watching him develop over time.”