Mumand prem baby in for long haul
An Australian woman and her prematurely-born daughter are stuck in Christchurch after the infant was deemed too healthy for a medical transfer but too unwell for a commercial flight home.
Brodie Soster, 34, has been in Christchurch Hospital with her daughter, Billie Ava Stevens, since a trip to visit family in her hometown of Greymouth ended in an emergency caesarean section nearly six months ago.
Billie, who was born 25 weeks into the pregnancy and weighing just 510 grams, was too small to be held at first. Soster said she had since grown to 4 kilograms and started breastfeeding but still needed regular oxygen and a hernia operation.
She hoped to bring Billie home to partner Scott Stevens in Brisbane but doctors here said the baby was too ill to fly commercially and an offer from Queens- land Health to fund a special flight was recently retracted.
‘‘They did promise a transfer and told me to get the [baby’s] passport but now they’re not coming because they said she’s too well,’’ Soster said.
‘‘What’s really frustrating is that when she goes home she’s not actually going home.’’
Billie has been battling chronic lung disease and will need oxygen for the next two years after Soster developed HELLP syndrome, a type of pre-eclampsia, which meant she had to deliver 15 weeks early.
Soster said a medical check up before travelling to Greymouth indicated she had ‘‘a perfectly healthy pregnancy and what I thought was a perfectly healthy baby’’.
She attributed pain underneath her rib cage to heartburn but started struggling to breathe after a few days. ‘‘What we didn’t know was that she [Billie] had already stopped crying.’’
She said a local GP diagnosed the syndrome despite a lack of telltale swelling and headaches.
Soster was on a helicopter to Christchurch Hospital within hours. Stevens was able to be bedside for his daughter’s birth and much of the first four months but was now back serving in the Australian Army.
Soster said she ‘‘almost lost’’ Billie several times and, although her condition had improved, Billie’s stomach was distended from the surplus oxygen.
Queensland Health allegedly suggested she fly home with a nurse but Soster said cabin pressure on Billie’s lungs mid-flight could be fatal. The medical transfer flight would have been specially pressurised.
‘‘If it’s not a medical transfer, I’m not willing to go.’’
As New Zealand citizens, the cost of Soster and Billie’s care, now hundreds of thousands of dollars, has been publicly funded.
A crowdfunding campaign con- tributed more than $25,000 to Soster and Stevens’ mortgage payments but they would bear the brunt of ongoing medical costs once they returned to Brisbane, Soster said.
‘‘It’s quite hard to understand how they [Queensland Health] are not coming to the party with those finances. It’s like, it’s a baby to us but it’s just finances to them.’’
Queensland Health was yet to respond to a request for comment.
Soster was grateful for her care in Christchurch but wanted to get home and set up a nursery for her ‘‘first and probably last’’ child.
Doctors told her she had a 50 per cent chance of developing HELLP syndrome in any future pregnancies.
Though the birth was not as she had expected, Soster said watching small improvements in Billie’s health made the difficulties disappear.
‘‘She smiled for the first time yesterday [Saturday] and she made my whole six months.’’