IRELAND's smallest surviving premature baby is thriving at home with her parents today.
Tiny Sive McDonald weighed just 420g -- less than one pound -- when she arrived into the world 16 weeks early.
She was smaller than the palm of her dad John's hand at full stretch, reaching only the length of a biro.
Aisling McDonald (32) from Mullingar, Co Westmeath and her husband, John (30), from Bagenalstown, Co Carlow, met in Australia.
They moved back to Ireland and married -- and they were looking forward to the birth of their first baby last summer.
But they were given "no hope" when baby Sive had to be delivered 16 weeks premature on June 11. Aisling suffered from pre-eclampsia -- the medical term for high blood pressure during her pregnancy.
"It all happened really quick. We were brought from St Luke's Hospital in Kilkenny to Waterford Regional Hospital, where there is a special baby unit," said John.
"They were giving us no hope, to be honest. They gave us a room to stay in by ourselves and were really supportive. There was a priest there all the time and we were facing the worst-case scenario."
When the baby was born, her parents admit they were "naive". "We thought she'd be three or four pounds. But we didn't realise she'd be less than a pound and the dangers if her limbs weren't formed properly. We were told babies don't survive outside the womb unless they are more than 24 weeks. Sive was 23 weeks and five days."
Nobody expected Sive to pull through but she stunned medics by clinging on to life. Her paediatrician in Waterford, Dr Paul McMahon had to order special spectacles from the US so he could see her microscopic veins.
"At one stage, the doctor was trying to get food into her but her veins were so small. Every time they'd get a needle in, the vein was bursting, it wasn't strong enough. She hadn't been fed at one stage for five, six, seven hours. Dr McMahon finally got a vein and she was able to feed."
Sive had 24 blood transfusions but never gave up. "We still can't believe it. We brought her home to Kilkenny a month before Christmas and she is 9lb 6oz now. She's the equivalent of two months old. Her eyes are perfect, her ears are clear and she's responsive for two months. Her hands are coming up to the bottle now," said John.
She appears to be healthy and happy. "The only thing we worry about is how she'll be when she starts talking but we hope she'll be fine. She's happy now and we're getting as much food into her as possible."
Sive sleeps through the night and her parents set an alarm to wake her for feeds. "She won't cry; she's such a placid baby, it's unbelievable."
The parents are sharing their story to comfort other families of premature babies. "We are doing up a poster for the wall of the special baby unit to show how Sive survived. She's the best. We feel like the luckiest people alive."
They said hospital staff were amazing and went "beyond the call of duty". "If the politicians could see what they were at, they wouldn't be cutting their wages and hours," said John.