THE NORTH EAST HOSPITAL AND ITS MIRACLE BABIES
21 YEARS SINCE SOPHIE BECAME COUNTRY’S EARLIEST NEWBORN TO SURVIVE
THE original ‘sugar bag baby’, Sophie Proud was given almost no chance of survival when she was born weighing just 1lb 7oz.
She hit the headlines when she was born just 24 weeks into her mum’s pregnancy and became Britain’s first baby to survive such an early birth.
After 16 weeks fighting for her life at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary, Sophie made an amazing recovery – and both she and older sister Aimee now work as neonatal nurses.
Sophie’s mum Jeanette, from County Durham, was told to prepare for the worst after the early arrival – but 21 years on, survival rates for the tiniest babies are now so high in Newcastle that around 70% are being saved.
Over the past 10 years, doctors at the RVI’s neonatal unit have seen the proportion of babies born at 23 weeks’ gestation almost triple – from 25% in 2006, to between 60% and 70% now.
These are the most premature babies, right on the “border of viability”, and for babies born at 24 weeks the survival rate in Newcastle jumps up to around 80%.
“It’s so encouraging to see these survival rates are going up,” Jeanette said.
“I think it will give hope to lots of parents.
“In my case I was told there was no chance, and we’ve gone from a little chance, to now quite a good chance, and that will make the journey a lot easier for parents.”
Sophie went through open-heart surgery, an operation on her eyes, 10 bouts of pneumonia, blood poisoning which almost cost her a hand and collapsed lungs.
Now 21 years old, she is a neonatal nurse at Middlesbrough’s James Cook hospital, while sister Aimee, 31, works in neonatal care at the same RVI unit where she watched her younger sibling fight for her life.
Jeanette said: “My memories of being there are the noise of machines, every time an alarm went off you jumped.
“You weren’t allowed to touch the child – there was no following your maternal instincts, all you could do was sit and talk to plastic and hope they were going to recognise your voice.
“Luckily Sophie did because they used to play a tape of my voice to her at night when I wasn’t there.
“It’s so hard to hand the care of your child over to someone else but the staff at the RVI were incredibly supportive.”
Dr Richard Hearn, consultant neonatologist at the RVI, says there is “no one thing” that has led to the boom in survival rates, but rather many small improvements.
“In the 1990s we started using a medicine which is squirted directly into babies’ lungs when they’re born.
“We also started giving steroids to mums who are thought to be going into labour early, which helps the lungs of both mother and baby.
“There have been lots of very small changes over the past 10 years – small improvements to nutrition, better lighting in the room, breathing support, training to reduce infections.
“Obstetricians are better at predicting when the right time is to deliver babies early, and even improvements in the number of
You weren’t allowed to touch the child – there was no following your maternal instincts, all you could do was sit and talk to plastic and hope they were going to recognise your voice. JEANETTE PROUD
nurses helps in the ability to give one on one support.”
Up to 1,000 babies every year are treated in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the RVI, and takes care of some of the most critically ill babies across the region as the specialist referral centre for the North East and Cumbria.
The unit at the RVI is also heavily involved in research on the diseases premature babies are prone to.
Dr Hearn said: “Every day on the unit is unpredictable – complications and infections can happen at any time and come on very quickly.
“Every single week in intensive care I see at least one case that throws up quite significant challenges.
“In the past five years I can think of at least three or four cases that will probably stick with me for the rest of my life.
“Day to day our job is just to keep these little ones ticking over.
“The nice thing is you get to see the babies in follow-up appointments.
“This week I had a couple of little ones come back who are now two years old, and to see them going from babies to little boys and girls and see their personalities coming out is just wonderful.”
Above, student nurse Sophie Proud and below, Dr Richard Hearn, consultant neonatologist at the RVI
Sophie Proud, centre, at the Special Care Baby Unit at the RVI with, from left, Consultant Nick Embleton, Sister Karen Matthison, Sister Lizzie Worrell, Sister Kelly Alexander and Consultant Alan Fenton who cared for her as a premature baby Meet the North East miracle babies who were born premature but fought for their lives