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Preemie baby at birth is defying the odds

PENDLETON — When Pendleton resident Sebrina Wegner gave birth to her seventh and last child in October 2008, she was afraid to even breathe near the tiny infant.

Baby Elliot was born at just 24 weeks and weighed just 1 pound 13 ounces. He was the size of an ear of corn.

In order to stay alive, he was on a ventilator and a feeding tube.

Sebrina had been flown to Legacy Emmanuel Hospital in Portland shortly before he was born. She stayed at the Ronald McDonald House while Elliot was kept in the neonatal intensive care unit.

"I can't count the number of times he quit breathing while at the hospital," Wegner recalls. A couple of weeks after Elliot's birth, while trying to get some rest at the Ronald McDonald House, Wegner received a call from the doctors to come back to the hospital. They showed her an X-ray of Elliot's lungs, which revealed problems. The doctors told Wegner the outcome didn't look good and asked her to consider taking Elliot off life support.

After speaking with the doctors, Elliot's mom went to the hospital chapel and prayed.

All of Sebrina's children had been born premature; her first two children were born at 21 weeks and lived less than an hour. Elliot's three surviving older siblings had all been born before 37 weeks. A third child, Craig, died at 4 1/2 months of SIDS. Removing Elliot from life support was out of the question for Sebrina and her husband Brett.

Elliot was in the hospital for four months. The family spent Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's in Portland. When Sebrina and Brett finally brought their baby boy home, he was on oxygen and a heart monitor.

Almost eight years later, Elliot has come a long way. Now longer the size of an ear of corn, he'll be entering second grade at Sunset Elementary in Pendleton and has a support team in place to help him succeed.

His mom describes him as energetic, happy and lovable.

"He's all boy. He likes dirt, frogs and mud."

He loves Legos, dirt bikes, forklifts — practically anything on wheels — and his family. He's especially fond of his grandma, Shirley Sagrero of Pendleton, whom he likes to call "Grandpa" just to tease her.

Elliot does have a speech delay, which is not uncommon in babies born so early, according to the U.S. Health and Medicine Division. He still has fluid on his brain, which doctors have told his parents can affect his balance. But his brother, Brett Jr., said Elliot is strong and has an "iron grip."

The family looks back on Elliot's first months of life with an appreciation for the support they received from family, friends, the hospital staff and the people at Ronald McDonald House. The family is still friends with some of the people they met at their home away from home.

"They were like a second family to us," recalls Brett Jr., who was a teenager at the time.

The Wegners consider Elliot's life a miracle and are hopeful for his future

"He's strong," Sebrina said. "So I can see good things for him."