Three years ago, Bella Ortego was born 12 weeks early and spent six weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit at Christus Ochsner Lake Area Hospital.
Now a healthy girl, she was named this year's Children's Miracle Network Local Champion during a ceremony at the hospital on Friday.
"She's our miracle baby," said Ortego's mother, Kara.
Allison Schnake, Children's Miracle Network director, said the award is given to a child who has received services from one of the network hospitals and has benefitted from CMN funds.
"They'll kind of be the face of the hospital and will spread the message of the services we offer here," Schnake said. "They'll tell their story about how CMN funds benefitted her and how it can benefit other children."
"I think it's important for the community to see a face and to see how far she's come," Kara said. "They can know that any support they give is helping."
Twins Logan and Mason Crommelin were the local champions for the last two years. Their mother, Jill, said Logan stayed in the NICU for 134 days, while Mason's stay was 292 days.
Kara and her husband, Scott, said another miracle was that Bella never had to be given oxygen.
"We knew she was in great care here and had all the services that she needed," she said.
The two wrote a book, "Relentless Hope," which details their 3.5-year struggle with infertility, along with Bella's premature birth. Scott said the experience introduced them to other families who experienced infertility and had their newborns in the neonatal intensive care unit.
"It doesn't matter if your baby is there for two days or two months," he said. "The feeling you get having to go there every day doesn't feel normal."
Kara is now nearly six months pregnant with their second child.
"This pregnancy has been completely different," she said. "So far, this one's been good."
Having a child as a local champion helps spread the message about the need to provide quality care for premature babies, Schnake said.
"We can talk about children's services all day," she said. "But when you see a child, their mom and dad and see how much it affected them, it's a miracle."
The Children's Miracle Network includes 170 hospitals nationwide, including Christus Ochsner St. Patrick's Hospital and Lake Area Hospital.