Before she was born, little Zoe Koz had only a 5 percent chance of survival. Indeed, her mother’s illness and a complicated pregnancy meant that the odds were stacked against her. Plus, when she was born, Zoe was as small as they come.
Still, Eric and Tammy Koz had always wanted a family of their own. In fact, the married couple from Illinois were ready to start trying for a baby when doctors gave Tammy a devastating blow. Sadly, they diagnosed the wannabe mother with lupus.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the tendons, joints and skin as well as other organs and tissues. The illness can also cause rashes and fatigue. What’s more, women with lupus are known to have high-risk pregnancies.
That’s because lupus can cause a number of complications for expectant mothers. These include preeclampsia, premature births, heart problems for the baby and even miscarriage. Therefore, the diagnosis was no doubt terrifying for the Kozes.
However, they decided to do everything they could to try to become parents. Sadly, the couple experienced a miscarriage. But then, in 2003, Tammy and Eric discovered that they were once more expecting.
Thankfully, the first few weeks of the pregnancy went smoothly. “I was ecstatic,” Tammy told The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2004. She admitted, “I had a very positive outlook on the pregnancy. I think I’m probably the only one that did.”
Then, at 19 weeks pregnant, the Kozes learned that their baby girl, named Zoe, wasn’t growing fast enough. Following a scan, medical teams told the couple that they had two options, neither of which would guarantee their little girl’s survival. Naturally, the parents were terrified.
“We said we could deliver at that point; her survivability was quoted at basically zero percent,” the family’s physician Dr. Jenson said on Oprah. “The other option was to try to get her to 27 weeks and then deliver her with a survivability probably still under the 5 percent number.”
Doctors believed that Tammy’s Lupus had a direct effect on Zoe’s growth issue. They explained that the disease likely prevented the placenta from fully forming. In turn, that restricted the baby’s essential blood supply.
So Tammy and Eric made the agonizing decision to continue with her pregnancy. This meant that the mom-to-be would have to check in at the hospital every other day to make sure that her baby was still alive. Every single visit, Tammy prepared herself for the worst.
“I remember everyday sitting in the car before we would walk into the clinic,” she recalled on Oprah. “You take a big deep breath, and you prepare yourself that there’s not going to be a heartbeat today.” But, miraculously, everyday doctors found a heartbeat.
Then, when Tammy reached 27-weeks, doctors decided that they couldn’t wait any longer. After all, if they left the fetus to fend for itself on the limited blood supply, it would likely die in the womb. So little Zoe would have to prove she could make it in the world.
In January 2004 the Kozes welcomed their daughter Zoe via cesarean section. Speaking of the risky procedure, Dr. Jenson revealed on Oprah, “We laid the uterus open and I reached by hand in and just shelled her out. She sat right in my hand. I didn’t know what I would find, but when Zoe came out and kicked me it was just unbelievable.”
However, Zoe was incredibly small. In fact, she weighed in at just 10.8 ounces, a record for a live birth. Yes, her weight made her the third-littlest baby ever born in the United States and the world’s ninth smallest. She was so tiny that her father was able to push his wedding ring right up to Zoe’s bicep.
Of course, her size presented doctors with a whole host of new problems. For example, they had to find IVs, feeding tubes and breathing tubes to fit her minuscule body. “In babies that small with specialized conditions like Zoe, there are few survivors,” neonatologist Dr. Covert explained to the Chicago Tribune in 2014. “If they survive, they often have lifelong disabilities or illness.”
And, indeed, for the first few weeks Zoe’s life did hang in the balance. “Were there negative thoughts that we thought? Yes,” dad Eric said on Oprah. “I was curious if I was signing a birth certificate and a death certificate. I was worried about those things. [There was] lot of guessing.”
But over the next six months, Zoe defied all the odds. Yes, she grew at a constant and steady rate and was soon strong enough to eat and breath on her own. Then, in June 2004, Tammy and Eric were finally allowed to take their newborn home.
And Zoe continued on her growing spurt long after leaving the hospital. Now 13 years later, in 2017, the once minuscule baby is a happy and healthy teenager. Only glasses, hearing aids and her petite stature stand as reminders of her difficult beginning.
“She is a very normal, pint-sized, fun-loving girl who does well at school, socially and academically,” Zoe’s pediatrician Chad Olsen told the Chicago Tribune. “She brightens up the office when she comes in with her sister and her family.”
“She’s growing, too, and she’s blending right in,” Eric revealed on Oprah. “She’s really taught me not to take things for granted and to just really appreciate every day,” Tammy told the Chicago Tribune. “I know how lucky I am to have her.”