“There are truly no words to describe how it felt to bring our baby home,” Dana Graves, who brought her son Kaleb home on Tuesday after 355 days in the neonatal intensive care unit, tells PEOPLE.
Kaleb remained hospitalized for nearly a full year after being delivered 16 weeks premature on October 20, 2015.
“As I walked out of the hospital doors I told Kaleb, ‘This is the first time you’ve felt fresh air on your face,’ ” Dana says. “This was his first time enjoying the bright sunshine.”
Kaleb, now 11 months old, was delivered via emergency C-section after doctors told Dana that the pregnancy had caused nearly fatal high blood pressure and warned her that to carry the baby any longer would cost her her life.
After 17 years of infertility, including four miscarriages and one stillbirth, Dana made the decision to continue putting her own life at risk by putting off the delivery until Kaleb had the best chance at surviving.
“It was the most selfless thing I have ever seen somebody do,” Dana’s husband Arkell told PEOPLE. “[Doctors] were telling her, ‘This could affect your liver, this could affect your lungs, this may affect your heart,’ but her determination was to make it to one particular day.”
Both baby and mom were in critical condition following the delivery, but both managed to pull through. Dana’s condition was soon upgraded to stable, while Kaleb remained in the NICU and underwent heart surgery and numerous treatments for a chronic lung condition.
Still, with support from his parents, his big brother Keelyn (who Dana and Arkell adopted 14 years ago), the hospital staff and the hundreds of thousand who tracked his progress on Facebook, Kaleb continued growing stronger each day.
Dana says her sister created Kaleb’s Facebook page following the incredible support of Dana’s pregnancy announcement video, which captured Arkell’s tears of joy over the pregnancy news.
“My sister started the page for me because I needed something to read to Kaleb and she said I should read him all the beautiful messages we had been getting after the video,” Dana explained.
The family continues to draw strength from this support. While the family is elated to have brought the baby they call their “miracle” home, providing around-the-clock care has been “no easy task,” Dana says.
“We are enjoying being under one roof, no traveling back and forth to the hospital, and being responsible for his care,” Dana says. “However, this is no easy task.”
“We’ve handled Kaleb’s round the clock care since leaving the hospital, since we have not found full time nurses,” she continues. “We are hopeful that he will get some of the best.”
Despite Kaleb’s continuing health struggles, Dana is confident her son will keep improving—and she’s tremendously grateful to all the other preemie parents who have chimed in online to share their own stories as encouragement.
“The support throughout our journey has been incredible,” she says.