Alyssa Smith places a hand on her baby boy’s chest and marvels at how much he’s grown.

“He’s just so chunky right now,” she says. “He has a double chin and everything.”

At 5 pounds, 1 ounce, Maverick already is showing the heart of a champion. He stretches his arms over his head, his hands curled in tiny fists, as if ready for a victory lap.

“He’s a strong little trouper,” says his grandmother, Cynthia Durham.

On the day Maverick arrived in this world, it was hard for his mom to imagine this moment, when her little guy would have chubby cheeks.

Alyssa, who lives in Fremont, Michigan, was 24 weeks pregnant when her water broke. Her husband, Pfc. Jonathan Smith, was in Marine boot camp, so she called her mom for help. She went to Spectrum Health Gerber Memorial Hospital and then transferred by ambulance to Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids.

Four days later, with her baby showing signs of distress, Alyssa underwent an emergency cesarean section. Maverick arrived, weighing a mere 1 pound, 7 ounces.

Alyssa got to see him briefly and give him a kiss. The sight of her tiny baby broke her heart.

“It was shocking to see him so small,” she said. “He looked so fragile. I thought he could pass away because he came so early.”

But Maverick grew stronger and bigger every day.

Jonathan arrived the day after his son’s birth and stayed for the next six weeks, before returning to California for training.

The new parents quickly developed a new routine. They spent all day beside their son’s crib in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

They spent their nights at the Ronald McDonald House of Western Michigan.

The home-away-from-home “is a huge help,” says Alyssa, who is still staying at the house with her mother. “I get to be 2 miles away, instead of an hour drive.”

Alyssa and her family follow a well-worn path. The home and the hospital recently celebrated a milestone: 10,000 families of Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital patients have stayed at the Ronald McDonald House while their children received medical care.

‘A lot of progress’

As Maverick’s lungs developed, he moved from a ventilator to CPAP―continuous positive airway pressure. Through a feeding tube, he receives breast milk pumped by Alyssa.

“I think he has made a lot of progress,” says neonatologist Jeannette Prentice, MD. “He’s had some degree of health problems, but he’s getting a lot better. He’s tolerating feedings great, and he’s growing really well.”

Alyssa and Jonathan dream of bringing their son home and watching him grow up.

“His dad wants him to be like him―to ride motorcycles and be active,” Alyssa says.

Alyssa likes dressing him in cute outfits. She wants to buy him work boots to match his dad’s.

Maverick starts fussing, stretching out his hands and making tiny little squawks. Alyssa tucks his blanket in around him and holds both hands on his chest.

Maverick grows calmer. The cries stop. He stretches out his hand and curls it around mom’s finger.

“He has a mind of his own,” she says.

Beth Baldry, RN, changes Maverick’s CPAP device. She wraps a strap under his chin to keep his mouth closed, so he will breathe through his nose. With all the activity, Maverick opens his eyes and looks up at his mom.

“Peek-a-boo,” she says in a singsong voice. “You’re wide awake now.”

Alyssa remembers how afraid she was to hold him at first. Now, she holds him every day, getting as much skin-to-skin time with him as she can. She takes lots of pictures and texts them to Jonathan so he can see their son’s progress, day by day.

“He’s amazing,” Alyssa says, patting her son softly. “He’s a miracle.”