THE NORTH EAST HOS­PI­TAL AND ITS MIR­A­CLE BABIES

21 YEARS SINCE SO­PHIE BE­CAME COUN­TRY’S EAR­LI­EST NEW­BORN TO SUR­VIVE

Sunday Sun - - Front Page - By Katie Dick­in­son Reporter katie.dick­in­son@trin­i­tymir­ror.com

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

IAIN BUIST

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

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