Real Life Special – A Very Modern Miracle

e almost never have to go out looking for a story – in fact we’re honoured and a little humbled, by the sheer number of amazing families who contact us each season to ask if they can share their experiences; and we know from the response that we get to our regular real life features that our readers appreciate them too.

Whether it’s a story highlighting the incredible work done by a particular neo-natal unit, or a tale of one family’s journey while dealing with a particular condition, our hope is that by sharing their stories we not only provide an insight into the huge range of experiences that parents of babies and small children can undergo but also a valuable source of information and reassurance for parents who are going through something similar.

So, this Spring and Summer, we are bringing you a Real Life Special – three stories each season documenting the amazing, and inspirational, experiences of our readers and their children.
Firstly, for many of the parents that we feature in real life stories the medical treatment that their children undergo is a matter of urgency – life and death, even.

But the issues raised are different when the treatment is for something which is primarily cosmetic – and everyone in the NHS is telling you not to worry about it.

It was every parent’s nightmare – when Finlay George was born he was unresponsive and had no heartbeat. However, a combination of quick action from medical staff and a new cooling treatment have given his story a happy ending.
For Byfleet mum, Claire George, Finlay’s was not an easy labour. “I’d been booked in for an induction at the Royal Surrey on Wednesday 10th November 2010. In the morning, when I arrived in the labour ward, I had my first contraction but by lunchtime the medical staff decided that they needed to speed things up.” Claire’s waters were broken, and she was put on a Syntocinon drip.

By five in the afternoon she was in a lot of pain but had only dilated 3cm. Claire’s midwife gave her some pethedine and 40 minutes later she was fully dilated and ready to push; however, there was a problem. “The baby’s heart rate was dipping and then it stopped altogether. Things are a little blurred in my memory, but an alarm was sounded and I was rushed into theatre to deliver immediately via c-section. All I can remember is Alan looking petrified, holding the gas and air.”

When Claire got into the theatre it was established that Finlay had travelled too far along the birth canal to be delivered by caesarean so he had to be brought out with a ventouse. The first signs were not good according to Claire. “Finlay was born with no heartbeat and he was non-responsive. Medical staff managed to stabilise him but he was starved of oxygen for approximately six minutes.” Claire herself had internal bleeding and had to stay in theatre while Finlay was whisked away.

Dad (Alan) was therefore left in charge of decision making. Finlay had what is known as hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). This occurs when there has been an interruption in the oxygen supply to the brain. HIE carries a high risk of death or serious disability and survivors may go on to develop cerebral palsy, long term visual or hearing problems and learning disabilities.

The doctors at the Royal Surrey suggested that he should be given a relatively new treatment where the baby’s body temperature is cooled by three to four degrees for three days. This treatment has been shown to significantly reduce the long term complications of HIE, however Finlay to be given the treatment would have to be moved to St Peter’s Hospital, Chertsey.

“It was fortunate that somewhere close had the equipment,” says Claire, “as not many hospitals do and they have found that it works most effectively if treatment is started within six hours of the trauma occurring.” While Claire was still in theatre, Alan made the decision to allow Finley to be moved to St Peter’s for the cooling treatment and followed him there. “Poor Alan felt so torn between Finlay, myself and our daughter Poppy, who was staying with my parents, but Finlay’s need was the greatest.”

Finlay was sedated to prevent him from feeling discomfort and treatment was begun. Meanwhile, Claire was still in the Royal Surrey being given a blood transfusion. “I remained a patient until Friday afternoon, day three of Finlay’s life,  when I begged to be released so that I could see him and, reluctantly, the consultant agreed – although I had only had two of the three bags of blood that I needed.”

When Claire arrived at St Peter’s, Finley, who she had barely seen before this point, was in the final stage of the cooling treatment. “My first impression of my son was that, although he was extremely poorly, he was just perfect and so handsome! We were told they would start warming him gradually back to the correct temperature by half a degree an hour, and that they would stop the sedation when he was a more normal temperature.”

Claire and Alan were told that, after around twelve hours, they could then expect to see unconscious reflexes in Finley – for example coughing, sneezing or moving limbs. “After 24 hours there was no change,” says Claire. “After 48 hours Finlay’s consultant, Dr Ortnula met us, and there was still nothing, and no good news. It was at this point that I really thought that the outlook was grim. Finlay even looked different – puffy, and empty. It was torture. We felt so helpless and, having kept a stiff upper lip until then, I broke down. A wonderful nurse asked if I’d had a cuddle, to which I replied that I hadn’t.”

So, five days after Finlay had been born, Claire was finally given that first cuddle. “ I wish I could describe how amazing it felt to hold my son for the first time, and, no word of a lie, within five minutes of being in my arms he had opened his eyes, coughed, sneezed, cried and even looked for a feed! It was nothing short of a miracle – even the staff in other rooms came to see him.”

From that moment on, baby Finlay has not looked back. After a terrifyingly shaky start, he has gone from strength to strength. “He was the ward whopper at 9lb 7oz,” says Claire, “and the staff liked to feed him when I wasn’t there because he was such a good size compared to the premature babies. One nurse even named him Gorgeous George!”

When he was thirteen days old, Finlay was able to go home and no one was more pleased to see him than big sister Poppy. “When she got home from nursery and found him at home she looked as if she might be about burst, and said ‘thank you, Daddy!’ It was amazing to finally have him with us and to start being a family.”

Ten months on and Finlay is still under observation but his parents are delighted with his progress. “He’s hitting every milestone as he should. He’s bright as a button and he’s even started trying to walk – the area that had swelling on his brain was the part that deals with coordination so we’re over the moon and so proud of our mini miracle.”

“We will forever be grateful to Dr Ortunla and his wonderful team at St Peter’s NICU, and to Liz Mainwaring at RSCH, and both of our wonderful, supportive families who helped us through it all.”

Finally, a topical piece on the crucial work carried out in the children’s cardiac unit at Southampton General Hospital which is currently under threat of closure as part of the government’s review of the NHS.