On June 5, 2020 — four months before her due date — Richard’s mother, Beth Hutchinson, abruptly went into labor. She was 21 weeks and two days pregnant, meaning only about halfway to full gestation.
Richard came into the world weighing less than one pound — the scale read just 340 grams. He could fit into a single palm of a hand.
The delivery went smoothly, and the baby survived, but “they didn’t think he would make it very long after that,” said Beth Hutchinson, 36.Story continues below advertisement
Stacy Kern, a neonatologist at the Children’s Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota, where Richard was born, explained to Hutchinson and her husband, Rick Hutchinson, the heartbreaking odds for their only son.
“We have not resuscitated anyone younger than 22 weeks, so we did not have experience on how to care for a baby born at 21 weeks,” said Kern. “There’s a lot of things you need to worry about with delivering a baby this early.”
The news was devastating to the couple, who struggled with fertility issues for several years. When they found out she was pregnant in February 2020, “we were ecstatic,” said Beth Hutchinson.
They were shocked when they learned the baby’s prognosis, but they also felt resolve to fight for him.Story continues below advertisement
“I wasn’t going to give up on my son,” vowed Rick Hutchinson, 40, who manages a gas station. “You are your child’s biggest advocate.”
As they anticipated, the first few weeks of Richard’s life were turbulent.
“He was very, very sick,” said Kern, adding that Richard, who is considered a micro preemie, had lung problems and was on a ventilator for eight weeks.
Common risks associated with premature birth include lung, brain and feeding issues, as well as general developmental concerns, Kern explained.
“It was really hard for me,” said Beth Hutchinson, who is in college studying computer science. “It’s our child that we were finally getting to have, and then we were told that he may not even live.”Story continues below advertisement
While Richard’s health was in the balance, the family and neonatal intensive care unit team remained dedicated to him.
“I felt like if we can get him through these first couple weeks of life and he can prove that he can oxygenate and ventilate and he doesn’t have a catastrophic bleed, we could do this,” Kern said.
Every day without fail for six months, the Hutchinsons drove an hour from their home in St. Croix County, Wis., to Minneapolis, where their son was being treated with around-the-clock care. With each visit, Richard repeatedly defied the odds.
Kern strongly believes the Hutchinsons’ constant presence at the NICU contributed to their son’s resilience during his first few months of life.Story continues below advertisement
“We know that babies that are talked to and held do better and have better outcomes,” she said. “For them to be there, always holding him and talking to him, it absolutely played a huge role.”
Likewise, Richard’s parents credit his doctors for saving their son’s life.
“They walked us through every step of the way and made sure that we knew up front what the possibilities would be, whether they were good or bad,” Beth Hutchinson said. “They were always honest with us, and that’s what we wanted from day one.”
“The staff interacted with us on a personal level. They are family now,” said her husband.
With each passing week, Richard’s condition steadily improved — an incredible feat for him and his doctors, and a major relief for his parents.Story continues below advertisement
“You think back to how sick he was initially, and then you go in his room and you see this smiling baby who is getting chunky and just looks so good,” said Kern. Watching his progress, she said, was “just an incredible feeling.”
Richard continued to gain strength, and on Dec. 4, just before the six-month mark, he was finally ready to head home with his parents.
While Richard’s homecoming was an emotional day for his mom and dad, it was also a meaningful occasion for the whole NICU team that cared for him.
“I wasn’t on service that day, but I came in to see him and say goodbye,” Kern said. She recalls scooping him out of his crib and saying: “Wow, you did it, buddy!”
Working on Richard’s case, she added, was profoundly rewarding.
“I feel so proud of him,” Kern said. “I’m so happy for the family and that they’re able to share this miraculous story of their wonderful baby.”Story continues below advertisement
While at home, Richard has continued to develop and grow, and although he still requires oxygen support and a pulse oximeter, he is slowly weaning off medical equipment.
“He’s doing really well. He’s pretty much hitting all of his milestones,” said his mom. “He’s got two teeth now and a lot of personality. He’s a happy, smiley baby, and he loves to laugh.”
Just before his first birthday, Richard was officially recognized by Guinness World Records as the world’s most premature baby to survive.
“I was so surprised that they actually named him,” Beth said, adding that Kern helped facilitate the application process and provided the required medical documentation.Story continues below advertisement
The title for world’s most premature baby was previously held by James Elgin Gill of Ottawa, who was delivered in May 1987 at a gestational age of 21 weeks and five days.
The couple said they were “extremely excited” when their son was verified by Guinness World Records, as they believe his story will help raise awareness of premature babies.
On June 5, baby Richard turned 1 year old — a momentous milestone for any child, but especially for one whose doctors believed he had no chance of survival.
“He has inspired us with how strong and resilient he’s been,” said his mom.
She and her husband are chronicling Richard’s growth in a Facebook group, and they also plan to start a nonprofit organization in the coming months to support other premature babies.Story continues below advertisement
Celebrating Richard’s first year is “a huge victory for him. This kid has done incredible,” said Kern.
Richard now weighs 16 pounds and has started crawling and eating baby food by mouth rather than a feeding tube. His health will continue to be closely monitored, “but so far, they don’t think he will have any major issues,” Beth Hutchinson said.
To mark his first birthday, Richard’s parents treated their son to a big vanilla cake, ice cream, lots of balloons and a celebratory meal with his family.
“Everything he’s gone through in his short little life, I couldn’t imagine going through that,” said his dad. “But he did it, and he’s truly my hero.”