Lit­tle Eva bat­tles for a voice

Auckland City Harbour News - - News - By Gemma Red­dell

A baby’s cry is a sound most par­ents don’t en­joy but for Joel and Tif­fany Mitchell it would be mu­sic to their ears.

Their six-month-old daugh­ter Eva is un­able to make a noise and has spent most of her life in Star­ship chil­dren’s hospi­tal with se­ri­ous health com­pli­ca­tions.

Eva was born with a con­gen­i­tal di­aphrag­matic her­nia, where a hole in the di­aphragm al­lows in­ter­nal or­gans to push up into the chest cav­ity and pre­vents the lungs from de­vel­op­ing nor­mally.

The en­tire left side of her di­aphragm was miss­ing, and her heart and liver had moved into the space, leav­ing her lungs se­ri­ously un­der­de­vel­oped.

She has had mul­ti­ple pro­ce­dures and in­va­sive surg­eries as doc­tors fought to save her life.

Par­ents Tif­fany, 24, and Joel, 26, of Wark­worth have only been mar­ried two years, and also have a two-year-old daugh­ter Mela.

Fam­ily friend Jayne Boes­ley says Eva has de­fied the odds and has been de­scribed by staff at Star­ship as a mir­a­cle baby.

“Her par­ents chose the name Eva be­cause they thought it was a name suit­able for an an­gel, af­ter they were told their baby might not have long to live,” she says.

The night­mare be­gan 20 weeks into the preg­nancy when a scan re­vealed the com­pli­ca­tion.

Eva was ex­pected to be still­born, but she was born full term on Oc­to­ber 13, 2007.

Sur­geons had less than a minute to in­cu­bate their tiny pa­tient be­cause she couldn’t breathe on her own.

Af­ter five days in the new­born in­ten­sive care unit her par­ents dared to re­lax.

Then Eva’s heart stopped beat­ing.

She was placed on a lung and heart by­pass ma­chine which al­lowed doc­tors to sta­bilise her con­di­tion. Her chance of sur­vival was slim, but Eva fought her way to strength.

She came off the ma­chines, only to have a blood clot travel to her brain, caus­ing tem­po­rary paral­y­sis to one side of her face.

Once sta­bilised, sur­geons were fi­nally able to patch the large hole in her di­aphragm.

The lit­tle bat­tler de­fied pre­dic­tions she was too frag­ile to sur­vive, and be­gan mak­ing slow progress.

It was a long seven weeks be­fore Joel and Tif­fany were able to hold their daugh­ter for the first time.

Their wish to take Eva home for her first Christ­mas was granted, but it wasn’t an easy time.

With­out the full time sup­port of med­i­cal staff, Joel and Tif­fany had to come to terms with the re­al­ity of liv­ing with a sick child.

Var­i­ous mon­i­tors and an oxy­gen tank with me­tres of tub­ing were part of their baby equip­ment, and con­stant care was re­quired.

Tif­fany says some peo­ple thought they were wrong to keep Eva alive, but she says it was Eva who was fight­ing to live.

“She is here for a rea­son, and we would never wish to have missed out on even a day with her.

“She is a gift to us, and ev­ery day we have with her is a bonus. The doc­tors urged us not to lose hope be­cause they felt they could help her.”

It has been hard for the young fam­ily – emo­tion­ally, phys­i­cally and fi­nan­cially.

Eva’s con­di­tion meant that Joel was un­able to work, and their sav­ings have gone to meet med­i­cal costs.

Ms Boes­ley says it’s hard for peo­ple to re­alise how sick Eva is be­cause she looks like a per­fect baby.

“She has met her de­vel­op­men­tal mile­stones and is not in­tel­lec­tu­ally im­paired.

“Apart from the oxy­gen tube in her nose and the feed­ing but­ton on her tummy, she has no out­ward sign of the med­i­cal prob­lems she is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing.”

And be­cause Eva can’t cry, Tif­fany says there might be times when her baby is in pain but they don’t re­alise.

She has been weaned off mor­phine and is re­ceiv­ing reg­u­lar doses of Pamol.

Tif­fany de­cided to ex­press breast milk for her baby, even though Eva was un­able to nurse, and it was fed through a tube into Eva’s stom­ach.

She con­tin­ued to do that for al­most six months, and has re­luc­tantly weaned Eva on to a spe­cial for­mula be­cause she re­acts badly to stan­dard for­mula.

When their baby is strong enough she will need fur­ther surgery to cor­rect her swal­low­ing dif­fi­cul­ties and in­ves­ti­gate her in­abil­ity to vo­calise, which could be re­lated to her trau­matic birth or med­i­cal prob­lems.

Joel and Tif­fany have noth­ing but praise for staff at Star­ship’s neona­tal and pae­di­atric in­ten­sive care units who gave so much care to Eva and the fam­ily.

“They have given us our baby back and we can never thank them enough,” she says.

The fam­ily hopes Eva will re­cover from her re­cent surgery and re­turn home within the next month.

Once home, big sis­ter Mela will need to stay away from preschool over the win­ter in case she brings home in­fec­tions Eva could pick up.

“They plan to take one day at a time and think it will all be worth it to see their daugh­ter’s health im­prove,” says Ms Boes­ley.

If you would like to help the Mitchell fam­ily you can make a do­na­tion to the ‘Ap­peal for Eva’ ac­count at any West­pac bank branch.

Photo: FIONA GOODALL

Sis­terly love: Mela Mitchell, 2, gives six-month-old Eva a hug in the com­forts of Ron­ald McDon­ald House.

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