Muscatine, IA

It’s impossible to keep from smiling when you hear Abi Frye’s infectious giggle.

“She’s bubbly all the time,” says Abi’s dad, Mark. “She tends to fill a room up when she steps in.”

Abi has taught her loved ones to be as happy as they can be, no matter what life throws their way. She’s been teaching them that since the day she was born.

Early on in her pregnancy, Abi’s mother, Julie, wasn’t feeling well. After checking in with her local doctor, Julie was diagnosed with preeclampsia—a pregnancy complication that causes high blood pressure and protein in the urine, which can be life-threatening to both mother and baby.

The only treatment for preeclampsia is to deliver the baby. At 25 weeks pregnant, Julie was taken by ambulance to University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics. Abi was born the next day, weighing just over 1 pound.

“She had a long road ahead of her to make it for survival,” remembers Mark.

Abi spent the first five months of her life in the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). During that time, she faced a number of challenges, including retinopathy of prematurity—abnormal blood vessel development that can cause the retina to detach—which required laser surgery on her eyes. She also underwent surgery to close a duct in her heart that had not closed after birth.

During Abi’s stay, Mark and Julie felt confident in their daughter’s care team.

“It takes very special kinds of people to not only take care of the babies that are in the NICU, but the parents and families, as well,” says Julie. “They made sure we understood what was going on and that we knew what our options were.”

“These are tough situations that they’re dealing with every day,” adds Mark. “The staff did everything in their power to make us comfortable and happy.”

After leaving the hospital, Abi had sleep apnea and required sleep and heart monitors for months. She was also on oxygen until she was 3 years old.

Throughout her childhood, Abi saw UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital specialists for her eye, ear, and gastrointestinal issues, as well as endocrinology experts for her small size. Additionally, she has seen specialists in the UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital Center for Disabilities and Development regarding her developmental delays and physical therapists to improve her walking and trunk motion.

“Working with a team that’s child-centered is very comforting,” says Julie. “We trust that they’re here for Abi and that they’re going to make the best options available for us.”

Today, the high-spirited 18-year-old loves bowling, cheering on the Hawkeyes, and playing with her cat, Lilly. She’s come a long way since her days in the NICU, and her parents couldn’t be prouder.  

“We’ve always said if we hadn’t been at the University of Iowa, we would not have Abi today,” says Julie. “Knowing where we started from and what could have been, to where she is now, is just amazing.”