PARK RIDGE, Ill. — For Kim Nguyen and Dan Do, it has been a long and life-changing 11 months. For Baby Max, it’s been his whole life.

But the young family started a new chapter Tuesday, at home for the first time, one day after a sweet sendoff.

“That’s a first; I’ve never seen anybody walk out of the NICU,” Max’s physician Dr. Mike Cappello said.

Max, lovingly known as the ‘Mayor of the NICU’ at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge – got to take his first steps away from the hospital. For all of his tender young life, this was never assured.

“The first couple of months were really the hardest because we don’t know what’s wrong with him,” Max’s father said. “He’s chunky now, but when he was first born, he fit in our hands like that.”

Max was born at 31 weeks with what’s known as congenital sodium diarrhea, a condition that prevents him from absorbing nutrients. The now-chubby-cheeked toddler has the only mutation doctors have seen.

“In his case, too much water goes into the intestine, such that everything moves its way out,” Cappello said. “The challenge is that it doesn’t allow enough time to absorb nutrients.”

After several procedures and I-V treatment, Max has been able to eat solid food and has remarkably recovered. Through it all, his bubbly personality persists.

“He’s happy and when he sees everybody comes and says hi, he’s smiling,” Nguyen said.

“He’s definitely a people person, more interested in people than toys, he’s always looking at people and what we’re doing,” Max’s father added.

The family had a real challenge finding an at-home nurse to care for Max, which is a condition of his release. After months of searching, the day finally came, giving them more days together.

“One day, I felt so tired, and I came to see Max and we got to snuggle and sleep together,” Nguyen said. “It felt so amazing.”

Cappello says it’s a thrilling time for baby Max and his family.

“I’m so excited for him, the physician said. “Everything is going to be exciting and adventure for this little guy. He’s going to see stuff he’s never seen before and it’s going to be coming at him fast.”