'Bun in the Oven' Dad Admits He Was 'Really Scared' to Hold Premature Son for First Time: 'He Could Fit in One Hand'

"His skin was really thin and you could see his organs when he was laying on his back," Arkell Graves tells PEOPLE

When Arkell Graves learned his wife was pregnant after 17 years of fertility struggles, he couldn’t wait to meet the boy she was carrying.

Little did he know — as he cried tears of joy over their viral “bun in the oven” video reveal — that he’d be meeting that son a lot sooner than he expected.

Just two weeks after his wife Dana Griffin-Graves’s video announcement was shared with the world on YouTube, she was hospitalized at 18-weeks pregnant with severe preeclampsia, a potentially life-threatening complication characterized by high blood pressure.

For the Dinwiddie, Virginia, couple who had gone though four miscarriages and one stillbirth, the development felt all too familiar. Against medical advice, Dana put her own life at risk to continue the pregnancy until her son reached 23 weeks and had a chance of surviving outside the womb.

“It was the most selfless thing I’ve ever seen somebody do,” Graves, 42, tells PEOPLE.

  • For more from the Graves family – including sweet pictures of Kaleb at home – pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday

When Kaleb Graves was delivered via C-section on October 20, 2015, he wasn’t breathing. While a team of doctors resuscitated him, Griffin-Graves was rushed to the intensive care unit to be treated for congestive heart failure.

“I couldn’t see him on that first night or the next day because I was still in critical condition,” she explains.

Doctors gave Kaleb, then the length of an iPhone, a 5 percent chance of survival – but against all odds, he made it through that first night.

“This boy is a fighter,” Graves says.

Kaleb spent the next six days of his life in an incubator, lying under a blue light with his eyes taped shut. “He looked like a little alien,” Griffin-Graves says.

Craig Cameron Olsen

“His skin was really thin and you could see his organs when he was laying on his back,” Graves adds.

He remained in the incubator for a month. The only way his parents could show him love during that difficult time was by caressing the bottom of his foot – the rest of his skin was too fragile to touch.

When the new parents were finally able to hold Kaleb, Arkell says he was “really, really scared, because he could fit in one hand.”

“But as soon as I held him, I felt a warmth that let me know he was going to be okay,” Graves says.

Craig Cameron Olsen

Arkell was right. Over the course of 356 days in the neonatal intensive care unit, Kaleb fought through two heart surgeries, treatment for chronic lung disease and a procedure to drain fluid from around his brain before finally going home with his parents and big brother Keelyn (who Dana and Arkell adopted 14 years ago) just days shy of his first birthday.

“Having all of my men under one roof was an amazing feeling,” Griffin-Graves says of Kaleb’s first night home. “I felt like I was dreaming.”

Related Articles