Little Cullen may only be 5 months old, but already he’s donning a cap and gown, signifying his “graduation” from the NICU.
Last weekend, the preemie baby, born at 22 weeks, took a victory lap around USA Children’s & Women’s Hospital in Mobile, Alabama, in a tiny cap and gown meant for a teddy bear.
“It was something we waited for for so long,” his mom, Molli Potter, 32, told InsideEdition.com. "To see him look like a real baby and act like a real baby and actually being able to go home, it just didn’t feel real."
Molli and her husband, Robert Potter, of Pensacola, Florida, were told he only had a 2 percent chance of survival when she was pregnant. Due to pregnancy complications, they estimated the baby would come early on in the second trimester.
“I was like, he can’t come yet, he’s too small,” Molli said. “We didn’t know if he was going to live or die. Every day was just waiting to see if we can make it to the next day.”
The hospital told her they wouldn’t be able to save the baby if it arrived early, a painful reminder of the daughter they lost at 15 weeks.
Robert began making calls to other hospitals in the area, and eventually, the University of South Alabama, located an hour and a half away from their home, agreed to take her.
When Cullen was born in March at 22 weeks, the situation became a fight to save his life.
“I was jealous of all the other parents that could just walk in and pick their baby up,” Molli said. “We couldn't even hold him for like a month.”
They commuted back and forth from their home to their baby for the next six months, all the while juggling their 6-year-old son’s schedule.
“It’s emotionally draining,” Molli explained. “You have to leave a little piece of your heart every day. That was the hardest part, was having to leave [Cullen] every day instead of bringing him home where he should be."
Cullen was finally able to go home with his family last weekend, and other than requiring an oxygen tube and a feeding tube, he is expected to grow up healthy.
The Potters are now encouraging other parents expected to have dangerously premature babies to get the help they need to ensure their babies' survival.
“[Cullen] has proved the technology is out there, the reason is out there," Molli said. "There’s no reason that a baby born breathing should just be left to die. We encourage other parents in our position – high risk or not – definitely get with your hospital and find out what they can and can’t do."