Cassie's parents were afraid they'd never see their daughter dance - or skip, or jump rope, or do all the other things little girls do while they're growing up.
Cassie Hochwalt was born at just 24 weeks, weighing only 1 lb., 13 oz. - small enough to curl up in the palm of a man's hand, with skinny little legs that looked like chicken bones.
"She had every possible complication," her mother, Debbie, said. Her tiny daughter had meningitis and intestinal disease, and she needed the help of a ventilator to breathe. She wasn't expected to survive.
Suprisingly, Cassie began to improve. Then, on her 11th day, she became critically ill, and doctors discovered an intra-cranial hemorrhage (bleeding on the brain). The prognosis again looked bleak.
"We don't know what will happen," Cassie's doctor admitted to the Hochwalts, and Cassie's parents were terrified. But they appreciated their doctor's honesty.
"He was definitely not a sugar-coater," Debbie said, but his gentle, soft-spoken manner helped them through the next difficult days.
The crisis passed, and after 10 weeks in the NICU, Cassie was finally well enough to go home.
"I think, from the very beginning, this little girl had fortitude," Debbie said. "She had a very strong desire to be in this world."
Today, Cassie is a spunky 5-year-old who loves ballet, swimming, Barbies and swinging golf clubs. Every year she pays a visit to the NICU to see the doctors and nurses who helped her through her first weeks of life.
"Cassie knows all about the nursery and all the wonderful professionals who helped her," Debbie said. And Cassie's mother will never forget the doctor who always seemed to say the right thing, even during their darkest days at the hospital.