A little girl from Redruth has celebrated an extra special first birthday after she survived being born more than 13 weeks early weighing only 460g (1lb).
Little Lucia was born at 26 weeks on February 19, weighing less than half the expected weight for a baby of that gestation after her mother Emma suffered pregnancy complications.
Emma said: “My husband Steve and I had already had five failed IVFs before Lucia was conceived on the sixth attempt so she was a very much longed for baby. I have an auto immune condition and we’d already had two early miscarriages so it was a high risk pregnancy.”
Emma was being monitored by her midwife and GPs at Chacewater Health Centre and was then referred to Miss Aylur Rajasri, known as Raji, consultant in maternal and fetal medicine at the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust, who specialises in high risk pregnancies.
Raji said: “Ten per cent of all pregnancies we see at the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust are high risk but I only work with those with the highest risk like those with a cardiac, kidney or autoimmune condition like Emma’s which will have a serious impact on the pregnancy outcome. Working closely with specialist in those fields and the paediatricians is crucial. It means if we come across problems we can intervene early and for Lucia that made a huge difference.
“We knew there were problems and could see the baby was very small. A special test to look into the blood flow showed that there just wasn’t enough blood getting to the placenta from early on in pregnancy and so it was small and not able to provide enough to the baby. We needed to optimise the blood flow to the baby and we knew we would have to act quickly. It was really important we kept a close check on Emma and Lucia and we scanned her every week. If Emma had not had such close monitoring the baby may not have survived to the 20 week point.”
Emma and Steve were told there would come a point when baby Lucia would have a better chance of survival out of Emma than in. That point came 26 weeks into the pregnancy.
Emma said: “I’d been in and out of hospital because my blood pressure kept shooting up and had been signed off work. A couple of weeks before Lucia was born I ended up staying on Wheal Rose, the antenatal ward at Treliske. I was being closely monitored and at 26 weeks I had a scan which showed the blood flow had started to reverse back into me so Lucia wasn’t getting anything. That’s when we were told it was time to deliver her and Raji gave me steroid injections to help her lungs before we travelled to Derriford Hospital in Plymouth.”
Raji said: “When we realised Lucia needed to be delivered we had to send them to Derriford Hospital, which is a specialist centre for the most premature infants. Emma was only 26 weeks and she was worried about it being too early as she didn’t really even have a big bump.”
Emma’s fears were confirmed when Lucia arrived weighing only 460 grams (1lb 0.5oz). “Babies born at 26 weeks typically weigh around 1 kilogram (2lbs, 3oz) but Lucia was so small she could fit on one hand,” Raji added.
Emma said: “We all knew she would be small but I don’t think anyone expected her to be quite that small. Staff at Plymouth said she was the size of a 22-week gestation baby.”
Emma and Steve were told there was only a 50/50 chance that Lucia would survive but when she was born she came out screaming. Emma said: “As soon as she arrived the staff popped her into a little sandwich bag to keep her warm and she was whisked to the neonatal unit.”
Lucia spent the next eight weeks at Derriford before being rushed to Bristol Children’s Hospital for life saving surgery after she developed necrotizing enterocolitis, a common bowel condition in pre-term babies which can be fatal.
Emma said: “She was only eight weeks old and still weighed only a pound and a half. It was really scary and we didn’t think she’d survive the surgery.”
But Lucia proved again what a determined little girl she is by fighting back. She had the damaged section of bowel removed and a temporary stoma bag fitted while the bowel matured and she underwent sight saving laser eye surgery. Following a stoma reversal operation and after 13 weeks in Bristol, the family returned to Cornwall and the Neonatal unit at the Royal Cornwall Hospital, Truro. Five weeks later she was discharged home.
Emma said: “It really was touch and go. Lucia had pretty much every premature baby issue and it’s not been an easy ride. Quite a few times we were told she might not make it through the night. We are just so grateful to all the medical staff who helped us. They were just so brilliant particularly Raji. There is no doubt that Lucia would not have survived the pregnancy without what Raji did.”
Raji said: “They were an incredibly family to work with and they were very brave. I call Lucia my miracle baby. Their story really shows the difference we can make.”
“We are lucky in the Royal Cornwall Hospital that we have a service where such high risk pregnancies can be identified and monitored from as early as a positive pregnancy test. These pregnancies need intense Consultant lead monitoring to achieve best outcome. This is definitely anxiety provoking for most parents, however they appreciate that they are receiving the highest quality care to achieve successful outcome.”
On her birthday, Lucia, Emma and Steve celebrated with a party for family and friends, including friends they made on the neonatal unit in Bristol. While there were lots of gifts for Lucia, the family also asked people to donate money to the Cots for Tots appeal, which buys specialist incubators and Derriford Hospital.
As to the future, it may be years before the family know if there are any long term problems from Lucia’s early arrival. Emma said: “Lucia’s lungs are really good but we won’t know if there are any other problems for possibly years. But Lucia is lovely and when your baby has had to fight just to survive, you are just glad you have them regardless of what problems may come.”