His Wife Died After Giving Birth in a Coma. Now Their ‘Miracle’ Baby Keeps Her Memory Alive (Exclusive)

By: Wendy Grossman Kantor Published on December 24, 2023 09:00AM EST

This holiday season, Virginia widower Daniel White is focusing on his sweet son, 17-month-old Noah, after heartbreak.

“He’s the baby we thought we never would have — and he truly is a miracle,” White, 44, tells PEOPLE of his child with his late wife, Pia Reyes.

Born via emergency c-section at 25 weeks and two days on July 6, 2022, Noah weighed just under 2 lbs., making him a micro-preemie — babies who often have fragile skin, breathing challenges and underdeveloped eyelids.

The premature birth marked a joyful moment amid a medical nightmare: At 20 weeks pregnant, Reyes suffered a brain hemorrhage and was hospitalized. Then, at 22 weeks pregnant, she slipped into a coma.

As the fate of his wife and baby-to-be remained uncertain, White held out hope, telling PEOPLE at the time, “There’s so many things we’re fighting for and hoping for. It means the world to us.”

But on July 19, 2022, Reyes died, leaving White to raise the little one without her.

“I know Noah and I have a guardian angel,” he says.

A planning and development analyst for Virginia’s Fairfax County, White works from home in Herndon so that he can be near his son and tend to his medical needs: Noah has a tracheostomy tube to help him breathe, a feeding tube, a ventilator and oxygen support.

“People tell me, ‘I don’t understand how you could even do this,’” he says. “It’s not a choice. You’re saving his life every day. And that’s the important thing. We’re doing what we need to do for him — and that just makes us all better people, too.”

It’s been nine months since Noah was able to leave Children’s National Hospital in Washington D.C., where he was transferred following his birth in South Carolina. Through all the ups and downs, White says, he’s relied on prayer to find strength.

“When I pray, I do talk to her and say, ‘We could use some help here,'” he says. “And things usually work out.”

He’s also relied on a small village set up to support Noah. Two nurses provide 16 hours of care on most days, while White’s mother, Janice White, a retired third grade teacher who moved in with the father-son duo, also helps out. And Reyes’ aunt Annette lives nearby and visits every day.

“There are tough times, but the family and the support — that’s been the saving grace,” White says. “My mother has been here with me the whole way. Without her, it would’ve been almost impossible.”

On a group chat, he updates all the doctors, nurses, friends and family around the world about Noah’s progress.

“They’re amazed, and rightfully so,” White says.

Micro-preemies often struggle with long-term challenges such as intellectual disabilities, hearing loss, blindness, cerebral palsy and chronic lung disease. While Noah continues to receive physical, speech and feeding therapy, he’s growing into a happy and chatty toddler who wants to walk and move.

“I go back and look at some of the pictures from when he was first born to where he is at now, and it’s just night and day,” says White. “He was born 1 lb., 16 oz., and he’s probably close to 19 lbs. now. So we’ve come a very long way.”

As a result, doctors have given the green light to wean the boy off his ventilator and feeding tubes while introducing solid foods.

“He has some limitations right now, but in a year or two he probably will not,” says White, who is determined to give his son a happy childhood.

In July, the group celebrated Noah’s first birthday with a party complete with a Curious George-themed cake.

“It was definitely bittersweet,” White says, referring to his late wife’s absence.

But he’s constantly reminded of Reyes, whose boy inherited her eyes, nose, mouth and just about “everything,” says White: “He definitely has a lot of Pia in him.”

Like his “sweet” mom, Noah also has an infectious personality, White adds: “He’s very bubbly. When he wakes up from a nap, he’s smiling. He smiles at everything, all the time.”

Keeping her memory alive, the family often talks about Reyes. And whenever White speaks of the boy’s mother, his son always looks at her picture.

“I tell him that she’s his guardian angel and she’s watching over him,” White says. “As sad as it is, I think she’s in a better place.”

At hospital check-ups, White finds reasons to remain optimistic by speaking with other families who have micro-preemies who faced and overcame similar medical challenges.

“It’s very uplifting when you hear the positives,” he says. “You’re reassured that things are going to be okay.”

He hopes that someday his son won’t even remember the time in his life filled with so many hospital visits and tubes and wires attached to him.

“There will be bumps along the way, but we’ll get through them,” White says. “Our hopes and ambitions are high. I think his possibilities are endless.”

Among the new memories little Noah will be making this year: Christmastime with family members, including his grandparents and Reyes’ sisters.

“He’ll get to see his aunts and his cousins,” says White. “Some of them have never met him before. That will be a lot of fun.”