Just keep swimming: How "Finding Dory" inspired this preemie and his family

Just keep swimming: How "Finding Dory" inspired this preemie and his family

Learn the amazing story behind the viral video of preemie Francis Azize, and check out the short film about his incredible journey!

Preemies aren’t exactly born under the most fortuitous circumstances. In spite of this, it’s their persistence, tenacity, and ability to “just keep swimming” that allows them to conquer the impossible. For Francis Azize and his parents, the motto, “just keep swimming”–famously vocalized by characters in the Disney Pixar franchise–has more personal significance than you’d imagine. In a truly serendipitous turn of events, Azize would be personally supported by Andrew Stanton, director of Finding Dory, and with his support and a dash of bravery, little Francis would do the impossible!


Francis was born on January 13, 2015 to Maureen Azize and her husband Jeffrey; however, he arrived 17 weeks early. Weighing in at only 1 pound 9 ounces, Francis was immediately faced with an uphill battle. Doctors at the hospital in Rhode Island claimed the infant had only a 15 percent chance of survival.

“I was blown away by how tiny he was,” Maureen told TODAY Parents. “Our wedding bands could go up his arm to his shoulder.”

Her son was rushed to the NICU after spending only minutes with his parents. After five lengthy, nerve-wracking days in the NICU, doctors told Maureen and Jeffrey that their son was suffering from perforated bowels. The parents had two options: have their son undergo surgery or experiment with a stent in a less invasive, safer approach. The couple opted for the latter. Thankfully, Francis pulled through and displayed another example of his amazing perseverance.

“You felt like you just hit a brick wall. We had been blessed with the outcome,” said Maureen.

Though he was able to conquer the aforementioned affliction, Francis still faced many problems on a daily basis. He was constantly sick from infections, and it often appeared as though the little fighter wouldn’t pull through. Obviously, this took an exhausting emotional and physical toll on his parents.

Courtesy of Jeffrey and Maureen Azize

Courtesy of Jeffrey and Maureen Azize

Maureen’s brother, Chuck Kinnane, knew he had to do something to lighten his sister’s gloomy disposition despite the somber circumstances. Kinnane, a documentary filmmaker in Los Angeles, around that time had stumbled upon a Ted Talk conducted by Andrew Stanton of Disney Pixar, and he felt it pertained to his sister’s position.

While Maureen appreciated the sentiment, she admits that she wasn’t exactly enticed to watch the seminar at the time.”I was kind of like ‘Chuck, thanks, but I kind of don’t feel like watching a TED Talk,'” she claimed.

Eventually, the dispirited mother summoned the willpower to watch the Ted Talk and she soon began to understand why her brother had suggested it to her. In his talk, Stanton revealed that he himself was born prematurely, and many doctors told his family that he wouldn’t survive.

“I was in the hospital for months. I lived. Whatever I ended up being good at I would strive to be worth of the second chance I was given,” said Stanton in his Ted Talk. The reveal and story moved the Azize family and gave them the spirit to believe that if Stanton could make it, so too could their son.

Learn what serendipitous turn of events lead to newfound optimism and hope for the Azize family! Click next for more!

In the meantime, an unforeseen coincidence occurred when Kinnane was travelling on a short flight. While seated in his aisle seat on the small plane, he looked over to the window and saw none other than Andrew Stanton. “I didn’t believe it,” said Kinnane. “There’s no way it is him.”

Kinnane knew he had to talk to the impressive director; he shared Francis’ story and Stanton asked to see pictures of the baby who was still only weeks-old in the NICU.

“He said to me ‘Us preemies need to stick together,'” said Kinnane. Then Stanton tore a piece of paper from his notebook and wrote “To Francis William, just keep swimming.”

preemie story 2

Courtesy Jeffrey and Maureen Azize

“These little coincidences that kind of accumulate … it is cool,” said Maureen.

Kinnane believed that the chance encounter was more than chance. He was truly moved and felt inspired to shoot a documentary about the journey and battle of Francis. Since said documentary’s release on June 17th, it has been viewed more than 15 million times, and shared by over 200,000 users.

“It’s a testament to how powerful stories can be,” Kinnane said of the 6-minute film.

After a tumultuous 118 days in the NICU, Francis was able to come home with his family. While he’ll always suffer from lung problems and a wide array of side effects, he’s finally able to continue with his development. As of today, young Francis is learning to walk and talk. There’s no doubt in my mind that this courageous little boy will soon utter that positive motto that meant so much to his family in dark times: “Just keep swimming.”


[H/T] TODAY Parents

READ: 15 Astounding photos that offer a look at beautiful home births

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