This Thanksgiving will be extra sweet for a Pottsboro family who will be at home with their baby girl instead of at the hospital.
Born at just over one pound, doctors said Pearly Jo stunned them in every way. She's among the 15 percent of micro preemies who are released without major health problems.
She’s also the youngest survivor at Baylor Scott and White Medical Center in McKinney.
Pearly Jo, or PJ, spent 136 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
She made her entrance on Independence Day and is making her hospital exit just in time for Thanksgiving.
Tipping the scales now at more than nine pounds, she’s the miracle her parents prayed for.
“For years after our first miscarriage I would lay my head on AJ's shoulder every night and cry and say, 'When will we have a baby?'" recalled Tisha Calhoun, PJ's mom.
With odds stacked against them, the Calhouns delivered PJ at just 23 weeks.
“I just had to keep repeating to myself, my husband reassured me. We are gonna leave the hospital with a live baby. I will survive labor,” Tisha Calhoun said.
She was only 1.1 pounds, but a fighter from the start.
“They said, don't be surprised if she doesn't cry when she comes out. But she did, she let out three huge cries. Everyone in the delivery room gasped,” she said.
Statistically, 60 percent of babies born this early won't leave the hospital.
“Our baby Pearly Jo beat all the odds,” said Dr. Arpitha Chiruvolu, NICU medical director at Baylor Scott & White, McKinney.
Like the Calhouns, her doctors never lost hope.
"I told the parents that there will be ups and downs, there will be good days, there will be bad days and we need to go through them together," Chiruvolu said.
PJ survived a brain bleed but never needed surgery and never faced an infection. On the 23-week spectrum, she's on the highest end. Hospital staff credit medical advancements, family-centered care like delayed cord clamping and skin-to-skin bonding, as well as her parent’s dedication.
Mom Tisha drove 100 miles roundtrip every day from Pottsboro to be with her – to experience the milestones, she said she'll never take for granted.
“We made it to four months before I got pooped on, I was elated. I had a brand new shirt, I'm like, 'Look. I got poop on me. We should probably laminate this."
She spent 136 days in a NICU room, but has a lifetime ahead of her.
"Each and every baby has a purpose and she definitely has a purpose and we know she's going to move mountains,” Chiruvolu said.
Her doctors and nurses said they’ll miss her, but they plan to see her again. The hospital holds reunions each year with families of NICU babies.