A tiny baby who at one point weighed less than a can of baked beans is preparing to mark a special milestone this month – her 10th birthday.

Chrystal Henson was born on July 9, 2002, in Waikato Hospital and was one of New Zealand’s smallest premature infants.

Delivered by emergency caesarean section, 18 weeks early and at 390 grams she weighed less than a can of baked beans and was the same length as her dad’s hand.

When she was 2 years old, Chrystal and her mother, Michelle Hancox, moved to Invercargill.

To celebrate her 10th birthday her mother has organised a special surprise party.

The support she had received from Waikato Hospital nurses was amazing, she said.

“I feel as though I wouldn’t have coped without the nurses. They didn’t just look after Chrystal, they looked after me too.”

Chrystal spent 3 1/2 months in hospital before she was allowed to go home.

“The doctors were amazed at how healthy she was for such a premature baby, and I was amazed I didn’t have a baby with medical problems.

“I’m really lucky,” Ms Hancox said.

Her first cuddle was on July 14, while Chrystal was still in the incubator, and it was six weeks before she could hold her properly.

The hospital staff told Ms Hancox to take care of Chrystal at home as if she was a baby who had been born full term. “I was over-protective with Chrystal at first, but I had to learn to let go,” Ms Hancox said.

“She was so tiny in the car seat, we had to pad it for her. Her legs didn’t even go past the straps.”

Chrystal has needed help to develop and strengthen her bones and Ms Hancox went with her to St Joseph’s School in Invercargill to help give support for her concentration.

When Chrystal no longer needed the support, Ms Hancox ended up volunteering and helping the other children.

Chrystal’s favourite subjects at school are reading and writing.

New Zealand Neo Natal Trust chief executive Michael Meads said New Zealand had one of the best reputations for trying to save premature babies. There were some places in the world that would not try to save the infant.

The length of the pregnancy was a determining factor, and different hospitals sometimes had different policies, he said. The trust hoped to set up a satellite trust in Southland during the next 18 months to provide support for parents of premature babies in the region.

Hannah McLeod – The Southland TImes, 5th July 2012. Republished with permission.