‘Just Keep Swimming’: A Premie Baby’s Inspiring Journey

How "Finding Nemo" inspired a family as they cared for their premature baby through a 15% chance of survival.

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- Posted on Jun 23, 2016

William Francis Finding Nemo Andrew Stanton viral video

When Francis William Azize was born in Providence, Rhode Island, he weighed just 1 pound, 9 ounces. According to his mother Maureen Azize, the premie was 17 weeks early and doctors gave him only a 15% chance of survival. To give the family some hope, Azize’s sister drew a Finding Nemo theme on the nurses’ board in Francis’ room. It reminded the family of beloved Nemo character Dory’s mantra, “Just keep swimming." Then Francis’ uncle, Charles Kinnane, shared a video with Azize and her husband of Finding Nemo creator Andrew Stanton’s inspiring 2012 Ted Talk. The end of the Ted Talk brought the Azize family to tears.

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“I was born premature… I wasn’t fully baked," Stanton illustrated in his Ted Talk. "I was very, very sick and when the doctor took a look at this yellow kid with black teeth, he looked straight at my mom and said, ‘He’s not going to live.’” He continues, “I was in the hospital for months. I lived. Whatever I ended up being good at, I would strive to be worthy of the second chance I was given."

Seeing Stanton’s survivor story gave the family new hope. “It was really inspiring to hear his story and [see] how much he’s amounted to,” said Azize in a Facebook video recounting Francis' story.

About a month later, while Francis was still fighting for his life in the NICU, Kinnane happened to be on a flight to California sitting next to none other than Andrew Stanton.

“My brother showed him some pictures and told him about Francis and before the plane ride was over, Andrew Stanton handed my brother a piece of paper that said, ‘To Francis William: Just Keep Swimming.’”

After 113 days in the NICU, baby Francis got to go home. On June 17, 2016, the Azizes and Kinnane celebrated the now 1-year old with a video titled, "Just Keep Swimming," documenting Francis’ journey and featuring excerpts of Stanton's Ted Talk. The video instantly went viral, and many people shared their experiences of having premature babies using the trending hashtag #GoFrancis.

Stanton shared the video on his Twitter feed, saying: “Can’t stop crying. Profoundly moved is an understatement. #GoFrancis.’”

“He just kept swimming throughout the NICU,” Azize says in the video, “And he continues to keep swimming and thriving.”

Watch Francis' viral video here:

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