Amir Keys: Beating 1 Percent

In November 2020, Amir Keys was born at 22 weeks’ gestation. He weighed 1 lb., 3 oz. and had a 1-percent chance of survival. He also needed intestinal perforation surgery—an operation that requires a minimum gestational age of 23½ weeks.

To Amir’s care team, a 1-percent chance was a chance worth taking. He had already proved that he could beat the odds.

A Whirlwind of Uncertainty

When Kadijah Keys went into preterm labor with twin boys, she and her family were thrown into a whirlwind of uncertainty. Although the boys were not expected to survive through labor, they arrived to a flurry of activity as caregivers rushed to stabilize the tiny babies.

Amir and Amar’e—who was born at just 15 oz.—spent their first days in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at the University of Cincinnati. When doctors determined that Amir would require surgery, they ordered an emergency transfer to Cincinnati Children’s. Be prepared, they told Kadijah and her husband Kevin—he might not survive the journey.

As Amir traveled between the two hospitals, his family held their breath, waiting for an update. When the call came from doctors at Cincinnati Children’s, they confirmed that Amir had arrived safely.

Over the next few days, Kadijah and Kevin lived in two separate worlds—one with Amir at Cincinnati Children’s, and another with Amar’e at the University of Cincinnati. By this time, Amir’s weight had dropped to just over a pound. Amar’e, on the other hand, seemed to be doing fairly well.

However, Amar’e’s condition suddenly took a turn. On day 13, he passed, knowing the love of his family and care team.

Continuing the Fight

With the loss of his brother, Amir’s care team was even more motivated to give him every chance to thrive. But creating this chance would not be an easy or straightforward path.

Amir’s intestinal perforation—a hole that could allow the contents of his intestines to spill into his abdominal cavity, causing a serious infection—would require a lifesaving surgery. Although his vitals were stable, this procedure was typically not performed on babies as young and small as Amir.

Despite these unknowns, Amir’s care team was determined to find a way to continue the fight. His surgeons, neonatologists, nurses, and other team members met to discuss the possible risks and benefits. Along with Kadijah and Kevin, they decided to move forward with the procedure.

Exceeding expectations, Amir made it through the surgery, but the next day was touch-and-go. His heart rate dropped, and the team called the family in—he is not doing well, they said, and we are unsure what will happen.

Within a few hours, Amir began to steadily improve—beating the odds again. For this little fighter and his care team, 1 percent was enough.

A Chance to Grow

Since that day, a single chance has made way for many more. Amir has had four subsequent lifesaving surgeries, and he continues to grow stronger. He has discovered that he loves listening to songs, watching the strum of a guitar, and getting pampered on spa days. Kadijah and Kevin have discovered a passion for sharing their story, supporting other NICU families, and working with Amir’s care team, who have become family to them.

This month, when Amir moves into the Critical Care Building, there will be new chances—in the outdoor garden, a chance to feel the wind on his face; in his new room, a chance to watch thunderstorms and read books with his mother; in the hearts of all who meet him, a chance for hope.

The Keys family would like to thank all members of Amir’s care team, including Cincinnati Children’s NICU nurses Nanci DeBord, RN; Alexis Hunter, RN; Hannah Morgan, RN; Khloe Schroeder, RN; Brittany Swearingen, RN; Kayley Tepe, RN; and Barb Winters, RN.

Amir and dad, Kevin.

Amir and his mom, Kadijah, with NICU nurse Barb Winters, RN

Amir with Eric Rellinger, MD, and Iris Lim-Beutel, MD, MPH (inset), two of the surgeons who saved his life.

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