By INDERDEEP BAINS
One of the world's smallest surviving babies, Melinda Star Guido was so tiny when she was born at 24 weeks that she could fit in the palm of her mother's hand.
Weighing less just 9 ½ ounces at birth - less then a can of soda - she has spent the first four months of her life in a neonatal intensive care unit.
Now weighing 4½ pounds, doctors have given her 22-year-old mother Haydee Ibarra the all clear to take her 'miracle baby' home for the first time.
Homeward bound: Melinda Star Guido is discharged from Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center after spending months in the ICU, now weighing four and a half pounds
Tiny miracle: Haydee Ibarra, 22, pictured here holding record-breaking Melinda Star Guido at 14 weeks, can take her baby home for the first time after giving birth in August
Little fighter: Melinda, pictured here holding her mother's finger at three and a half months, has beaten all the odds by making steady progress since she was born at 24 weeks
Melinda has been growing steadily and gaining weight since she was born in August, almost four months before she was due, at the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center.
She is the world's third smallest baby and the second smallest in the U.S.
It's too early to know how she will fare developmentally and physically, but doctors planned to monitor her for the next six years.
Home-coming: Overjoyed Haydee Ibarra, 22, is preparing to take her tiny baby home today for the time since she gave birth in August
Soon after birth, Melinda was treated for an eye disorder that's common in premature babies and underwent surgery to close an artery. Melinda's mother held her for the first time after the operation in November.
Speaking to the AP, Miss Ibarra said: 'She's been through a lot and she's made it. A lot of people doubted her. They thought that she wasn't going to make it.
'She's a little miracle to me.'
Survivor: Melinda, pictured here at 14 weeks holding her mother's little finger while lying in an incubator, is being released from USC Medical Center in Los Angeles today
Time to go home: Despite the hurdles, doctors said Melinda was fortunate she did not suffer serious complications such as bleeding in the brain
Despite the hurdles, doctors said Melinda was fortunate she did not suffer serious complications such as bleeding in the brain.
Most babies this small don't survive even with advanced medical care.
About 7,500 babies are born each year in the United States weighing less than one pound, and about ten per cent survive.
A study published in the journal Pediatrics in 2010 found that many survivors have ongoing health and learning concerns.
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