Paula Belmonte had a fairly easy pregnancy until she went into preterm labor 12 weeks before her due date. Four days later, her son Santiago was born weighing 1 lb. 5 oz. and measuring 12.25 in. Paula says the next 161 days were some of the hardest she ever experienced.VCU Medical Center is a Level III, state-designated regional perinatal center – this means that together with Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, the hospital is uniquely staffed and equipped to expect the unexpected. This is important for moms who are high risk due to pre-term labor, chronic conditions like diabetes, genetic factors, multiples, or simply by virtue of their age.For Paula, it wasn’t just the hospital’s expertise that made a difference.“The staff readily answered my thousands of questions. Instead of making me feel like a helpless observer, the nurses actively engaged me in Santiago’s care. They were so patient with me and helped me change his diaper, even though he was so tiny. I was afraid to try at first,” said Paula. “We became like family. I even started referring to Santiago’s nurses as his ‘NICU aunts.’”After 161 days in the NICU, Santiago weighed in at 10 pounds and was healthy enough for Paula to take him home for the first time. Though he was five months old based on his birthdate, he was only two months old developmentally, which is based on the date he was supposed to be born. After leaving the hospital, Paula had regular calls with her pediatric team for several weeks as she transitioned home. Today, Santiago is right on track with his expected development and is even rolling and starting to sit upright.“I will always be thankful for the experience I had with Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, and I feel so fortunate to have had a team of caregivers with the right expertise, who also cared about me and my son,” said Paula. “I hope other Richmond moms will read this and take comfort in knowing they have access not just to the most advanced care, but also to the education and the loving support we needed along the way. Santiago and I would not be here today if it weren’t for Children’s Hospital of Richmond and VCU Medical Center.”Are you a high-risk mom? To learn more about managing high-risk pregnancy, click here.