Dad Films Premature Son's Miraculous First Year

Ward Miles Miller is a happy, pudgy 16-month-old Ohio boy who likes chasing the family dog and slurping green smoothies. But when he was born, 15 weeks prematurely, he weighed not quite a pound and a half, and required a host of machines to keep him alive during his 107-day stay in the hospital’s newborn intensive care unit. Parents Benjamin and Lyndsey didn’t know if he would survive. Now a short video of Ward’s first year, created by his photographer dad as a birthday gift for his mom, is serving as a testament to the boy’s fighting spirit and captivating viewers worldwide. 

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“The response has been great—so many people have shared how it’s touched their lives,” Benjamin, 29, a Columbus-based wedding and portrait photographer, tells Yahoo Shine. “I’ve been blown away.”

The 7-minute video, which he uploaded to Vimeo two weeks ago, has been viewed 169,000 times. And it’s growing in popularity during what happens to be National Prematurity Awareness Month, as promoted by the March of Dimes and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Benjamin shot his seven-minute film on a handheld Canon 5D camera, capturing moving moments from Ward’s first year of life. It begins with the scary first days in the NICU, and with Lyndsey carefully picking up her fragile baby for the first time. Once she gets him to her chest, after nurses help move away the host of medical wires and tubes attached to his tiny body, she’s overwhelmed with emotion and begins to cry.

“I felt the same way watching—so happy, but then it sort of sets in what’s happening,” he explains. “I definitely cried while I was making [the film]. There’s a moment here when the camera is shaky, but I didn’t want to cut it, because it wasn’t about the perfect moments.”

Behind the scenes, he adds, were even harder moments, such as when they were told Ward had bleeding on both sides of his brain. “It could’ve meant nothing but scary things,” including the possibility that the boy would never walk, he says. (But it stopped, and Ward appears to be healthy.)

Also painful was getting to know the other NICU parents and watching what they went through, including, in some cases, the deaths of their newborns. “It just breaks your heart,” Benjamin says. “You almost feel guilty walking out of there with your baby.”

The film goes on to show Ward’s transformation—from a delicate, tube-fed preemie who cannot breathe on his own to a happy, healthy baby who eventually nurses from a bottle, smiles and giggles with his mom, and devours his first-birthday cake to the point it makes him vomit. That, Benjamin notes, is a result of his having an irritable throat; feeding issues are common with premature babies.

In the U.S., according to the CDC, one in eight babies is born premature, or at least three weeks before the due date; it’s a rate that’s gone up by 36 percent over the last 25 years. The babies account for a large proportion of infant deaths, and those that survive face many health risks, including possible cerebral palsy, speech issues, vision and hearing problems and, like Ward, feeding disorders.

Dealing with a newborn preemie, notes Kelli Kelley, founder of Hand to Hold, a national support network for parents of preterm babies, “is a very isolating experience.” Kelley was particularly taken with Benjamin’s video, and wrote to him Thursday about the possibility of using it for educational purposes.

“I just sat there and sobbed because that is my same story,” she tells Yahoo Shine of her reaction to the film, referring to the birth of her now healthy 13-year-old son. “I was remembering what it felt like to hold my baby, that weighed basically a pound, for the first time, and it had such a profound impact, because that’s not what you envision. I was so scared to love my baby, because I didn’t know if he would survive.”

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