Courtesy Maureen Azize(LITTLE COMPTON, R.I.) — A Rhode Island mom and dad are facing the challenges of their son’s premature birth head-on with encouragement from none other than the director of Finding Dory, Andrew Stanton.
“Andrew Stanton himself was born premature and didn’t have much of a chance of survival,” mom Maureen Azize of Little Compton told ABC News Tuesday. “It was inspiring to hear how thankful he was to his parents for giving him a chance. It confirmed it was the right choice to give Francis a chance.”
When Francis William Azize was born on Jan 13, 2015, he weighed just 1 pound, 9 ounces. He was 17 weeks early, arriving at 23 weeks. Doctors gave him a 15 percent chance of survival and he spent 118 days in the NICU at the Ronald McDonald House in Providence, Rhode Island, his mother said.
“It was a lot of ups and downs,” Azize said of her now 1-year-old son. “They say it’s a roller coaster and it definitely is. Some days it derails, but he received a lot of prayers and a lot of love from everyone and he is thriving. The staff, nurses, doctors — they’re such unique people on the front lines of fragile lives.”
She added: “Developmentally, he’s right on track of where we want him to be. He’s currently in the process of wanting to walk. He’s not there yet, but he wants to be. I think one of the doctors said, ‘You have to have spunk to be born at 23 weeks,’ and I think that described him very well … he’s just a real little gift.”
Charles Kinnane, Azize’s brother and Francis’ uncle, shared a video with the family featuring an inspiring speech delivered by Stanton at the 2012 Ted Talk conference.
Stanton is the creative force behind Disney & Pixar’s Finding Nemo and the newly released sequel, Finding Dory.
But it was what he said at the end of the conference that the Azize family said brought them to tears.
“When I was born, I was born premature — that I came out much too early and I wasn’t fully baked,” Stanton said in his speech. “I was very, very sick and when the doctor took a look at this yellow kid with black teeth he looked straight at my mom and said, ‘He’s not going to live.’”
He added: “I was in the hospital for months. I lived. Whatever I ended up being good at, I would strive to be worthy of the second chance I was given.”
The Azizes, along with Kinnane, created a video titled, “Just Keep Swimming,” which correlated Stanton’s speech with Francis’ journey.
The footage, posted on June 17, was viewed 6.2 million times on Francis William’s community Facebook page.
“It’s a little no overwhelming, but not in a bad way,” Azize said of the video’s popularity. “We’ve received so many other stories from people who have premature children. Some are still in the NICU and have appreciation for life after watching it. I think ultimately that’s been the greatest thing about sharing the video is this appreciation on life.”
In February 2015, while Francis was still in the NICU, Kinnane was stunned to be sitting next to Stanton on a flight from LAX to Oakland.
“I said, ‘Mr. Stanton, I don’t want to bother you, but my sister and brother-in-law have a son that’s in the NICU and your TED Talk really inspired us,'” Kinnane of San Francisco Bay said of the encounter. “I showed him some photos [of Francis] and he couldn’t have been nicer. After seeing some photos he said, ‘Us preemies need to stick together.'”
— andrew stanton (@andrewstanton) June 20, 2016
As Kinnane deplaned, Stanton handed him a note for his nephew. It read, “To Francis William, Just Keep Swimming. -Andrew Stanton.”
“I think it’s a really cool story and connection between the events,” Azize said.
In response to the “Just Keep Swimming,” Stanton shared the video on Twitter writing: “Can’t stop crying. ‘Profoundly moved’ is an understatement. #GoFrancis”
“‘Just keep swimming’ and that’s what Francis did,” Azize said in the video. “He just kept swimming throughout the NICU and he continues to ‘just keep swimming’ and thriving. We wanted to give him a chance.”
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