LI Preemie Who Touched Hearts Turns 1: ‘She Is Healthy And Here’

A baby born 12 weeks early captured hearts on the North Fork and now is celebrating her 1st birthday.
A baby born 12 weeks early captured hearts on the North Fork and now is celebrating her 1st birthday. (Courtesy Jess Dunne.)

NORTH FORK, NY — A preemie born 12 weeks early who captured hearts on the North Fork and beyond celebrated her first birthday last week as her joyful parents reflected on a journey filled with uncertainty, faith, and always, love.

Nova Rae Schott was born on August 31, 2020, 12 weeks early, and what followed was a long road for her parents, Jess Dunne and Christian Schott. She was delivered at 28 weeks, weighed 1 lb., 3 oz., and was only 9 inches long, making her a micro-preemie, Dunne said. The community rallied to buoy Nova’s parents during the days filled with fear — and welcomed her home with banners and cheers in November.

Now, during September, which is NICU Awareness month, Dunne and Schott said their baby’s birthday is also a beacon of hope for other parents spending long days and nights in neo-natal intensive care units where every hour is filled with unknowns.

“It’s definitely crazy that a year has gone by,” Schott said. “I’m happy that a year later she is healthy — and she is here.”

Dunne agreed, adding that her precious baby is delighting at every turn. “Nova definitely started off as a very serious wise old soul. She still has those traits but is now becoming such a silly babe. She is clapping and impressing herself and us, sticks her tongue out at us, says ‘mama,’ and tries her best at saying ‘papa.”

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Nova Rae Schott, born 12 weeks early, is reaching new milestones every day. / Courtesy Jess Dunne

Nova, Dunne said, is somewhere between 9 to 12 months in terms of clothing size. “She is still such a peanut. She is smaller than my 7-month-old niece,” she said. “Last we weighed in, she was a little over 17 pounds, but to us, that is huge.”

Today, Dunne said, “eats anything and everything — and, as a chef, I am proud.”

Since Nova was born at below 2 pounds, she is eligible for free early intervention services, provided to ensure preemies develop to their full potential, Dunne said. “It can’t hurt, but currently, she has no health issues and is on target with growth and development,” she added.

Looking back on the past year that changed their lives forever, Dunne said the life lessons learned along the way are invaluable. “I think the biggest being that we have grown so strong as a family and realize nothing else matters but our health and happiness,” she said.

To other moms in the NICU, Dunne has advice and inspiration: “Take it day by day. One small setback can mean two steps forward for the next few days. It’s all about when they are ready.”

Nova Rae Schott spent months in the NICU but recently celebrated her first birthday. / Courtesy Jess Dunne

Dunne said she and Schott sent a photo of Nova both at birth and at her birthday party to the NICU at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, where they spent so many long months, willing their baby girl to survive. “I’m hoping they hang the photo in the waiting room,” she said. “That would have been so inspiring for me to see at the time, as a mother during COVID in the NICU.”

Nova Rae Schott with her grateful parents at their daughters 1st birthday party. / Courtesy Madison Fender.

The thankful parents said they have a message for their tiny fighter, for her first birthday: “Keep shining bright, baby girl. You were put on this earth for a reason bigger than us.”