Playing soccer in his front yard with his big sisters Alyssa and Ella, Gerson Vasquez is a 4-year old force of nature.
"He's just a little charmer, and a little stinker, all at the same time," says his mother Anna Vasquez.
Gerson is still too young to understand how hard he battled to get here.
"It's something that still he gives me goose bumps," says his father Gerson. "I mean he's already gone through a fight I could never emulate."
A fight that began in June of 2011. Anna Vasquez was just over half way through a "normal" pregnancy, 24 weeks to the day, when suddenly her water broke. Her husband was out of town on business. She was going into labor, four months early.
"I pretty much was thinking I was losing him." Anna remembers.
Rushed to Northside Hopsital, doctors were able to stall Anna's delivery for 5 more days. Gerson was born suddenly, June 14, 2011, right in his mother's hospital room. There was no time to move her to a delivery room.
He was rushed to Northside's neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU. Anna Vasquez says she felt sure she would never see her baby again.
Placed on a ventilator, his eyes still fused shut , Gerson weight just 1 pound, 8 ounces. Babies this small, doctors told the Vasquezes, have a 50/50 chance of surviving.
"And even if he did survive," Anna says, "there was a 70% chance he would have some severe issues." Micro preemies like Gerson are at risk for both short term and long term complications like cognitive impairments, lung problems and cerebral palsy.
The first time the couple saw Gerson, he was covered in wires and medical equipment, more tubes than baby.
His skin was so thin it was almost translucent. The Vasquezs had never seen a newborn this tiny.
"Not even in pictures," says Gerson, the father. " Not even in my wildest dream did I think a baby born that small, a pound and a half, was going to be able to survive."
But watching his namesake grasping for life, Gerson felt proud.
"Here's this little human being, a pound and a half," he says, "And the ability to be able to fight, the instinct to survive, is really awe-inspiring."
Their baby spent 116 days in the NICU, battling through bleeds and blood transfusions..
"The whole time through, it was ups and downs," says Anna. "Two steps forward, three steps back."
The Vasquezes talked to doctors, took notes, went online, went to a support group for NICU parents.
They held their breath, wondering what would happen next.
"We weren't sure when the other shoe would drop," says Anna Vasquez. "So, we wanted to have every moment that we could, we wanted to take in every breath that we could."
No one knows why Gerson was born months early. March of Dimes says about half of premature births have no known cause. The Vasquezes says March of Dimes gave them information, and support.
"I think that's one of the key things an organization like that provides, is hope." says Gerson.
Gerson Vasquez finally went home in November of 2011. His parents still bracing for breathing problems, feeding issues, developmental delays. But they knew they were lucky.
"We witnessed many (babies) who didn't get to go home." says Anna. "Many didn't even make it to the NICU."
Gersen was two before his parents finally let down their guard. Today, he's thriving. There are no signs of complications.
"He's exceeded every one of our expectations." says Anna Vasquez. "We were going to love him no matter what. But he's just surprised us with how smart he is and how fun he is."
But they've always known -- how much of a fighter he is.
"So many times as a father, you're son looks ups to you," says his father. "I look up to him."
November is Prematurity Awareness Month. Each week in Georgia, March of Dimes says more than 300 babies are born too soon. To read more about prematurity, visit marchofdimes.org.