Witnessing her pale, lifeless baby son being given CPR is an ordeal Hayley Macnamara fears will haunt her for the rest of her life.
Surrounding six-month-old Theo's bedside, almost two dozen medics worked tirelessly on him for 25 minutes in a desperate bid to get his heart beating again.
Then hours later, she said she a felt a sensation she described as “a massive explosion” as her waters burst.
Ward staff injected her with steroids usually given to a woman in premature labour to protect the baby’s lungs and brain, but it was too late.
Theo Eastment was born 20 minutes later on March 18, more than 13 weeks early and weighing a tiny 880g.
“I was in complete shock for those first few minutes and absolutely convinced that Theo wouldn’t be alive,” Hayley recalled.
“I hadn’t been pregnant for long enough to go to classes or learn much about giving birth.
“All I had to go on were the episodes of One Born Every Minute I’d watched and from that I knew that babies usually cry when they come out.
“When he did give out a little cry, it gave me hope. I could only see him briefly before they took him away and I remember feeling terrified at what lay ahead of him."
Still in shock from the unexpectedly premature delivery, Hayley and partner Mark Eastment were able to see Theo on the neonatal unit a few hours later.
“I can remember thinking that Theo looked more like a foetus than a baby when we first saw him,” Hayley added.
“His skin was red and he was about the length of my forearm. His eyes were still fused shut. The nurse talked us through all the lines that were going into him and monitoring him.
Hayley added: “I just felt so guilty. I kept thinking that it was my fault and that I must have done something wrong.
“I kept apologising to Mark that I hadn’t been able to keep Theo safe where he should have been. I felt like I’d failed them both.”
After doctors told Hayley and Mark that Theo’s condition was stable, the gravity of the situation really hit them.
As Theo’s lungs were severely underdeveloped, he needed additional support with breathing and was placed on a ventilator.
But as time went on his oxygen dependency increased rapidly until not even the ventilator could support his needs anymore.
The only option was to transfer the poorly child to an oscillator – a high frequency form of ventilation that keeps the lungs permanently open.
A course of steroids helped Theo and allowed his parents to hold him for the first time at 16 days old.
But hope was short lived.
As Mark was still holding him, Theo’s alarms went off and his blood oxygen levels plummeted.
Mark, 33, said: “Don’t panic unless we panic is a common phrase used on the intensive care unit and it’s usually reassuring.
"But on that day, the whole crash team were there in seconds to intubate Theo and put him back on the ventilator again.
"It was clear how shaken up Theo’s nurse had been. She said that his little body had given everything in those few moments to stay alive.”
Medics gave Mark and Hayley two options: either to give Theo stronger steroids and risk brain damage and long-term disability – or to let him die.
After being placed on an oscillator again, Theo started to make progress, grew stronger and was able to undergo two operations.
One was to correct an eye condition which could have led to blindness, while the other was to correct a problem with his intestine.
At nearly six months old, and now affectionately known as the “grandad of the neonatal unit”, Theo moved on to Island ward at the Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital for Wales.
And on September 20, just over six months after Hayley and Mark arrived at hospital for a checkup, they finally got to take their baby home.
But after only nine days back in their Vale of Glamorgan house, Theo became unwell.
They rushed him straight into hospital where tests revealed a blocked bowel caused by scar tissue from his intestine surgery.
Surgery was a success, but he took a dramatic turn for the worse two days later.
Hayley, who was given a call to head straight to the hospital’s paediatric critical care service (PICU), added: “We ran. We didn’t know what had happened but we know from experience that this call is never good.
“I was hysterical crying, running, not knowing what I would find when we got there. When we got there we saw about 20 people around Theo’s bedside performing CPR.
“It was the most horrific thing I have ever seen and it will haunt me for the rest of my life – seeing my baby white and lifeless knowing that he might not come back around.
“A doctor told us they had already been doing it for 15 minutes with no success. I pleaded for them to try everything and for Theo to come back.”
After 25 minutes Theo’s heart started beating again, but he was in a very serious condition.
There was a very high chance of him being brain dead.
More stories on premature babies
- The premature baby born so poorly that nurses said he was 'growing his wings' ready for heaven
- Tiny Edie was born so prematurely that her eyes were still fused shut
- Mum almost gives birth to premature twin sons in the back of an ambulance
- Family's premature baby is saved by a piece of equipment they donated to the hospital
Mark said: “We had to sit next to him not knowing if he was the same boy we brought into hospital, or if he was alive at all.
“Every day they would turn off his paralysis for a few hours to see if he moved and responded.
“The first time they turned it off I kissed his ear and he moved his head away from me, which he always does, and that gave me so much hope. I just knew that he knew we were there.”
Day by day Theo made an incredible recovery and within only 10 days he was awake, smiling, laughing and back to himself.
It took a further two weeks to successfully wean him off all his sedation and Hayley and Mark were finally able to take their son home again on October 26, where he continues to thrive.
“We just can’t believe he’s still alive and we feel so lucky that he has been given this second chance at life,” said Hayley.
“He is such a strong boy and is doing fantastically well considering his start in life. He constantly surprises us and the medical team.
“No matter what is thrown at him, he comes through and I just don’t know how he does it.”
Tiny Lives Appeal
In November 2016, the Noah’s Ark Charity launched its Tiny Lives Appeal in a bid to raise £1m in support of the new neonatal unit at the University Hospital of Wales.
Their aim was to hit this target by Christmas 2018, and thanks to the generosity of individuals, schools, community groups and corporate supporters, they're almost there.
Their current total stands at £875,000, and they haven’t wasted any time in putting the money to good use.
They are already committed to funding vital equipment like state-of-the-art incubators and ventilators as well as providing facilities for families during very difficult times.
A spokeswoman for the Noah's Ark Charity said: "Along our Tiny Lives journey we’ve been privileged to work with many parents whose babies were born prematurely or very unwell.
"Some have kindly shared their personal stories to demonstrate just how vital the neonatal unit is and to encourage others to support the appeal.
"Each family’s story is unique to them and their baby but there are two things that run through them all.
"The first is how overwhelming, frightening and heartbreaking the neonatal journey can be for parents.
"The second is how highly they value the medical professionals who care for their babies and help them through very challenging times. Many refer to them as a new family.
"It’s for these two reasons that we’re particularly proud to announce the last phase of the Tiny Lives Appeal to take us up to our £1m target.
"The remaining £125,000 we hope to raise by Christmas will pay for the provision of a new emotional support service for parents on the neonatal unit.
"The service will help families to process the trauma of their experiences and hopefully reduce the prospect of long term damage to their emotional wellbeing.
"It will also provide support to those nurses and doctors who give their all in caring for their tiny patients."
You can donate to the Tiny Lives Appeal on your mobile by texting LIFE04 and the amount you’d like to donate to 70070.
You can also do it online by visiting www.noahsarkcharity.org/tinylives or by calling 02921 847310.
Source : https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/health/babys-miraculous-survival-after-doctors-153823142483