He was born with much of his skin missing from his neck down and was given a slim chance at birth by doctors. In fact, taking on his case was a first.
“It was just red. Bright red,” his mother, Priscilla Maldonado, 25, told Today. “You could see all his veins; everything was exposed.”
Born on New Year’s Day this year, Ja’bari Gray weighed a low 1.3kg. He spent the first three months of his life in a San Antonio Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), and his family was told to prepare for the worst, but they refused to accept defeat.
And now, after a skin transplant at Texas Children's Hospital, the little fighter’s mother can finally kiss him.
Doctors started covering Ja’bari’s body with skin grown inside a Boston lab that specialises in burn victims, from cells taken from the back of his ear in May – and used 12 trays of skin to do this, Maldonado told Today.
Two previous cases who didn't survive
It was reported that he tested well through the pregnancy until an ultrasound at 37 weeks showed that he wasn’t gaining weight and his heart rate had dropped. Doctors then performed an emergency C-section and Ja’bari came into the world “completely silent”, Maldonado previously told San Antonio Express-News.
Maldonado says doctors told her only two other babies like Ja'bari had been born in the US, and neither of them survived.
His case, cited as a “medical mystery” by medical professionals, has undergone a remarkable transformation and Ja’bari now weighs a healthy 8.2kg, although he still has a long way to go.
Even though his skin is slowly starting to grow on its own now, his eyes are fused shut and his fingers, toes and neck also became fused while he was in the NICU. He underwent two surgeries to open his eyelids, but they reclosed. His arms, right hand, right foot and neck will also require surgery to be separated.
More babies with different rare skin diseases
Like Ja’bari, many other babies around the world displayed no signs of something being wrong during the early stages of pregnancy. In September 2017, Anna Wilklow was born with a rare skin condition called Harlequin ichthyosis, Business Insider reports. According to the US National Library of Medicine, the extremely rare genetic condition occurs in one out of 300 000 babies.
The condition meant her skin cracked minutes after birth and her skin’s tightness across the chest and stomach made breathing difficult. She was only diagnosed an hour after her birth and spent a full month in a medical care centre. Anna is covered in healing ointment and bathed multiple times a day to keep her skin from cracking.
In 2016, Harper Foy was immediately taken to the NICU after arriving in the world. Her skin was pulled so tightly that her eyelids had flipped inside out, reports Seattle Children’s Hospital. She, too, had been born with Harlequin ichthyosis.
The one thing in common all the parents of these brave little fighters have is a will to never give up.
“If it wasn't his purpose to be here, he would have been gone from birth or even before birth, so he does have a purpose in this world and we never know what it is until the future," Maldonado said to ABC News.