This is the story of two babies, both premature. One was born a little more than a year ago, the other was born five decades ago. Both weighed in at exactly 4 pounds, 6 ounces, at birth.
Little Blaze Inong (pictured at left - photo courtesy of Bryant Inong) was born in Honolulu last year to surprised and unprepared parents. As they didn’t expect him for another two months, they hadn’t even bought a car seat yet.
Robert Alabanza (pictured below right, as a toddler - photo courtesy of Robert Alabanza), by comparison, was born thousands of miles away (and more than 50 years earlier) in the Philippines to a mother determined to give her son life, even at the expense of her own.
We wanted to learn more about preterm births, so we recently sat down with Bryant Inong, Blaze’s father, and with Alabanza to talk about their experiences.
About 12 percent of Hawaii births are preterm, compared to about 11 percent nationally. Preterm babies — or babies born before 37 weeks — are at higher risk of developing breathing and vision issues, developmental delays and other problems.
Blaze, who was born two months early, came without warning. Inong says when his wife’s water broke, hospital staff said it didn’t necessarily mean that the baby was coming soon. But, lo and behold, about four hours later, Blaze was born.
“So that was just a whole surprise, that whole day was a surprise,” Inong (pictured below left) says. “We weren’t even ready. A lot of the stuff we needed, we didn’t even have. Everything seemed so rushed. It was hard for me to take it all in.”
One thing Inong and his wife did have ready was a name. And the nurses joked that yes, it was a fitting name, since their new little patient certainly “blazed” his way into the world.
As you can imagine, the world was a very different place when Alabanza was born. What’s more, his fate was uncertain even months before he was delivered. His mother had been suffering from a heart condition and doctors told her that her health was at risk and that she may even die if she gave birth. The doctors even gave her the option of terminating the pregnancy, but she refused and was determined to see her pregnancy through.
Alabanza didn’t learn that he was born premature until his late teens. His family told him that his mother was sure she wasn’t going to give up her baby. “At that time, if the doctor tells you that you may die if you give birth, it’s very probable that you will,” he says. Luckily, his mother survived his birth.
After Blaze’s quick delivery, he stayed in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for six weeks so that the hospital staff could monitor his development, especially his lungs, among the last organs to develop, Inong says.
Alabanza (pictured at right) also stayed in the “incubator” for a few months before he could be taken home. But even after his parents took him home from the hospital, he says, no one was allowed to take him out of his room for fear that he would get sick. However, he doesn’t remember having any special treatment or care when he was growing up. “There was nothing unusual that they did for me,” he says.
Blaze is now 14 months old, and doing well. Blaze’s doctor told his parents at four months that the baby had already caught up developmentally and was growing fine.
Inong and his wife still wonder why Blaze was born premature. “He was just ready, I guess,” he says.
For Alabanza, knowing the circumstances of his birth gives him a certain perspective. “It’s like it instills in you that you’re a survivor. And sometimes you use it in your goals or things you want to do in life. Like, dammit, I can do this, I survived my birth. So sometimes it gives you the drive and it’s a lot easier to accept challenges in life.”
Turning to Inong, he says, “So with your child, he may have that drive too, and it’s a good outlook to have.”