MILESTONE DAY: Caitlyn Gent was born 17 weeks premature and has faced various health challenges throughout her childhood and teens, but this week graduated high school.
MILESTONE DAY: Caitlyn Gent was born 17 weeks premature and has faced various health challenges throughout her childhood and teens, but this week graduated high school. Allan Reinikka ROK151117agraduat

The day this Rocky family didn't think they'd celebrate

FIRST smile, rolling over, grasping toys and making sounds.

But for little Caitlyn Gent and her family, milestones meant something different.

Born weighing the same as a small tub of butter and with limbs so small mum Lesley's engagement ring could slide up her arm, each day was a major achievement for the baby dubbed "our little miracle” by her parents.

Each day Lesley left the neonatal intensive care unit wondering if it would be the last time she'd see her tiny daughter.

Caitlyn Gent was born weighing about 570g, 17 weeks premature in January 1999.
Caitlyn Gent was born weighing about 570g, 17 weeks premature in January 1999. Contributed

A little fighter, Caitlyn defied the odds.

This week, she's reached another milestone: graduating from high school.

Like her first few years, finishing school has been more challenging for Caitlyn than most.

Lesley had already gone through six miscarriages when she fell pregnant with Caitlyn, a second child for her and husband Danny.

She was at home when her waters broke, just 23 weeks into the pregnancy in January 1999.

How The Morning Bulletin reported on Caitlyn Gent's birth in 2000, as she celebrated her first birthday.
How The Morning Bulletin reported on Caitlyn Gent's birth in 2000, as she celebrated her first birthday. File image

At first, the young Rockhampton mum was in denial about what was happening.

"I thought 'this can't be happening',” she said.

Lesley was flown down to Brisbane by the Royal Flying Doctor Service soon after being admitted to Rockhampton Hospital.

After a few days trying to stop the labour, Lesley gave birth.

"They just said 'you've got a little miss' and I couldn't even see her because they had to put all the tubes in,” she said.

"I couldn't even hear her. There was no sound.

"Her eyes were still fused together for a few weeks.

"She wasn't ready to come out.”

Caitlyn Gent was born 17 weeks premature and has had various health issues, graduated high school today.
Caitlyn Gent was born 17 weeks premature and has had various health issues, graduated high school today. Allan Reinikka ROK151117agraduat

For the first few weeks, Lesley couldn't cradle her little girl and said she was too scared to form an attachment.

"I was there every single day and I'd bring little books to read and I'd sing,” Lesley said.

"There were about six babies in the unit, and the nurse would say 'sit in the middle and read to everyone'.

"That was my way of coping, I'd just sit there all day next to her, she was just there on her own.”

Caitlyn was 148 days old when she finally came home to Rockhampton, but throughout her first few years she was continually in and out of hospital both at home and Brisbane.

Her first year of life was celebrated in The Morning Bulletin with a front page story.

17 years on, Lesley said she wanted everyone who had helped and supported the family along their journey to know how Caitlyn is doing.

Caitlyn Gent was born 17 weeks premature and has had various health issues, graduated high school today.
Caitlyn Gent was born 17 weeks premature and has had various health issues, graduated high school today. Allan Reinikka ROK151117agraduat

"I don't know how we even managed through primary school alone,” Lesley said.

"I look back and think 'how did we cope?'.

"It's all been a big roller-coaster.

"She was so strong all the way through.”

Caitlyn experienced medical issues and developmental delays, but Lesley said it had been hard to find support in the schooling system over the years.

Lesley and Danny have continued to fight for their daughter and are thrilled she will finally graduate.

Although there are many more challenges to come, including finding a job, Lesley said the family will take them one day at a time as they've done since Caitlyn's miracle birth.

"She's meant to be here,” Lesley said.



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