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Hollywood fanfare for tiny Melinda

One of the world's smallest surviving babies has been discharged from the hospital where she spent nearly five months in an incubator - but not before getting the Hollywood treatment.

Wearing a pink knit hat and wrapped in a pink princess blanket, Melinda Star Guido was greeted by a mob of television cameras and news photographers outside the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Centre.

"I'm just happy that she's doing well," said her 22-year-old mother Haydee Ibarra. "I'm happy that I'm finally going to take her home ... I'm just grateful."

Melinda was born on August 30 weighing just 9.5 ounces (269 grams), less than a can of pop. She was so tiny that she fit into her doctor's hand. Melinda is believed to be the world's third-smallest surviving baby and the second smallest in the US.

Now weighing 4.5 pounds (2.04 kilograms) and breathing through an oxygen tube as a precaution, doctors said Melinda has made enough progress to go home. Her brain scan was normal and her eyes are developing well. She also passed a hearing test and a car seat test that is required of premature babies before discharge.

It is too early to know how she will do developmentally and physically, but doctors plan to monitor her for the next six years. "I am cautiously optimistic that the baby will do well, but again there is no guarantee," said Dr Rangasamy Ramanathan, who oversees premature babies at the hospital.

Most babies as small do not survive even with advanced medical care. About 7,500 babies are born each year in the US weighing less than one pound (0.45 kilogram), and about 10% survive. The smallest surviving baby born weighing 9.2 ounces (260 grams) is now a healthy seven-year-old and another who weighed 9.9 ounces (280 grams) at birth is an honours college student studying psychology, according to doctors at Loyola University Medical Centre in Illinois where the girls were born.

Melinda has come a long way since being delivered by caesarean section at 24 weeks after her mother developed high blood pressure during pregnancy, which can be dangerous for mother and foetus. She was whisked to the neonatal intensive care unit where she breathed with the help of a machine and received nutrition through a feeding tube. Infants born before 37 weeks are considered premature.

Even after discharge, such extremely premature babies require constant care at home. Their lungs are not fully developed and they may need oxygen at home. Parents also need to watch out for risk of infections that could send infants back to the hospital. Even basic activities such as feeding can be challenging.

Soon after birth, Melinda was treated for an eye disorder that is common in premature babies and underwent surgery to close an artery. Ms Ibarra held Melinda for the first time after the operation in November. Her parents said the toughest part was battling traffic after work every day to see their daughter.

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