That 11-year-old Zareh Shamirza is alive on this Mother’s Day doesn’t seem incredible when you meet him.
He’s nearly as tall as his mother, runs after his dog Panda, plays piano when not playing soccer, talks about taking accelerated math and English and has learned enough of Spanish in school — his parents taught him Armenian — to present his mom with a Happy Mother’s Day card he’s written in the Romance language: ¡Feliz Día de la Madre!
Yes, when you meet this boy who was born at Summerlin Hospital Medical Center on July 1, 2005, there’s nothing to suggest he’s anything other than happy and healthy, a bright youngster who could parlay his love for math into a lucrative career.
“I like math because it challenges me,” said the boy, whose grin favors that of his father, Alfred, an investigator for Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson.
It’s only when you’re told the boy named after an Armenian king wasn’t due in this world until Oct. 4, 2005 — Zareh was born at 1 pound 11 ounces — that you realize this child wouldn’t have had a chance at life for most of the 20th century. The technology wasn’t there to make it possible.
“But he’s doing great,” his mother, Diana Shamirza, said, hugging Zareh in their northwest Las Vegas home. “Celebrating Mother’s Day is a dream come true for me.”
Even today studies show that, of 100 babies born in the U.S. at 24 weeks gestation, an average of 37 will die. The 63 who survive are at high risk for disabilities that include cerebral palsy, learning disabilities and mental retardation. Only 16 percent survive with no disability.
“We’re so fortunate,” said Zareh’s mom, a client relations manager for Platinum Real Estate Professionals.
A year before Zareh was born, she miscarried a child at 17 weeks because of a cervical insufficiency. Concerned her cervix might again open too early, doctors performed stitching procedures while she was two months pregnant in 2005. They also said she should stay in the hospital. She was six months away from her due date.
For reasons unknown, she went into labor four months early. Doctors told Alfred Shamirza that without an emergency C-section both his wife and child could die.
As Shamirza looked at his wife and child standing in the kitchen recently, he closed his eyes. “I couldn’t believe what was happening. I did a lot of praying.”
Diana Shamirza lost consciousness for nearly two days. Doctors told Alfred the first 48 hours would go a long way toward deciding whether the baby lived.
As it turned out, Zareh flourished in the neonatal care unit as his mother got healthy. The Shamirzas, who spent every waking hour at the hospital they could, said nurses treated their son like their own for the four months he was there. Not until Zareh was 2 months old could they hold their little one, who was full of life-giving IVs.
Mary Beth Lowman, an occupational therapist at Summerlin Hospital, helped the Shamirzas learn how to feed their child — he was so tiny that his dad’s wedding ring easily went over his son’s hand and arm, all the way to the shoulder.
For months after their son came home in October 2005, the Shamirzas helped their son with oxygen and a variety of medications and monitors. They saw one specialist after another, who said he was doing fine.
“I’ll tell you the truth,” Diana Shamirza said. “Every day is now a happy mother’s day for me.”
Paul Harasim’s column runs Sunday and Tuesday in Nevada & the West and Monday in Health. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5273. Follow @paulharasim on Twitter.