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Couple Chooses to Fight for Tiny Baby's Life

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Tampa Bay Times
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

When Kelley Benham and Tom French’s daughter was born at 23 weeks, doctors told them the situation was grim. Half the babies born this early do not survive. Every body part is underdeveloped at this age and many face disabilities.

The couple was told they would have to make a very tough choice: allow their baby to die or fight for her survival. They chose to fight.

Benham wrote about her experience in a series for the Tampa Bay Times. Health News Florida recently interviewed Benham and French about their experience.

Their fight was fierce from the beginning. About a week after their daughter was born weighing only one pound, she developed a hole in her intestine. Soon after, doctors found a large blood clot in her heart. She survived both potentially deadly situations only to then swell up from a leak in her lymphatic system. Then she stopped breathing.

“She had a period where she was stopping breathing six or seven times a day and sometimes turning blue,” French said.

Every day, Benham worried, might be her daughter’s last.

“I asked a hundred different ways,” Benham said, “Is my kid going to be okay? Is she going to go to kindergarten?”

It was a question doctors couldn’t answer.

For six months Benham and French read books and played Bruce Springsteen CDs for their daughter. They wanted to give her a taste of what she had to look forward to in life.

“Even if she never got out I wanted her to have a good day and know what that felt like, and know what it felt like to be loved,” Benham says.

She says when they read books and played music, the monitor showed their daughter’s breathing improve. 

“She noticed whether we were there or not there,” Benham said, “That was all the reason in the world to give her a chance.”

Finally the couple got the sign they’d been waiting for from doctors.

“One day, they told us to buy a car seat,” Benham says.

“That’s when we knew they were being optimistic about the possibility of her coming home.”

Juniper French is now home and healthy. She is 20 months old and her nickname is “Junebug.” She runs and talks and laughs a lot.  

“She’s a very, very happy little girl,” French said.

If they had to go through it all again, the couple says, they wouldn’t hesitate. Benham now realizes that as powerless as she and her husband felt in the hospital, they helped their daughter survive. 

“I feel like the love that surrounded her in that hospital made a difference that isn’t always apparent in studies and statistics,” Benham says, "trying to give her a sense of possibility inside a plastic box."

To read the full story, check out Benham’s firsthand account of her experience on the Tampa Bay Times website.