Having a child is a momentous, life-changing event, however it happens, and we love to report and celebrate all the different pregnancy and birth experiences of our readers and their families.
Many people sail through their pregnancies and are able to welcome their newborn babies into the world with minimal fuss and unmitigated delight. For others, things are more complicated – some spend the pregnancy in the shadow of a worrying medical issue, others have to watch their newborns being rushed straight into intensive care.
Happily, advances in medical science mean that more and more everyday miracles are being performed in situations like these, giving more families the possibility of the happy endings that they hope for and deserve.
This season, in the second part of our special feature, we meet the Ingle and Hall families, whose babies needed critical surgery at birth, and who now raise money for the hospital that saved their children’s lives; and we also tell the story of the Reynolds family, whose extraordinary twins were given just a 50% likelihood of surviving the pregnancy.
But first, the story of a baby girl, whose sense of timing was so perfect that she managed to be conceived before her parents had even decided that they wanted children – and it turned out to be the most timely unplanned pregnancy imaginable.
n October 2010 the Ingle and Hall families forged a friendship in the emotional environment of the neo-natal unit at St George’s Hospital Tooting, where their newborn babies were both receiving treatment. Two years later, the couples are still firm friends, and are working together to raise money for the hospital that saved both of their children’s lives.
Rob and Debbie Ingle were taken by surprise when Debbie’s waters broke four weeks before her due date, but there had been nothing during Debbie’s pregnancy to suggest that anything was likely to go wrong, so they headed into hospital eagerly anticipating the arrival of their first child.
Less than two hours later, Audrey was born by emergency caesarean, and her parents admired their new baby daughter. “We had a wonderful couple of hours with Audrey when everything was alright,” says Rob. “Later on, we would have conversations with parents who had known about their babies’ problems for many months before the birth. They said that the shock must have been awful for us, but I feel lucky that we had those few hours of peace, and not weeks of counting down to doomsday.”
Rob went to the car to collect Debbie’s hospital bags, and when he returned things had changed somewhat. “Audrey had started to struggle and turned blue as she fed, so she’d been whisked away to the special care baby unit across the hall.” It turned out that Audrey had a Tracheo-Oesophageal Fistula (TOF) and an Oesophageal Atresia, rare conditions where the baby’s oesophagus is not connected to their stomach. Audrey needed emergency surgery and was transferred from Frimley Park Hospital to St George’s Hospital Tooting, the regional centre for the treatment of TOF.
On the evening of the day that she was born, Audrey underwent surgery to detach her stomach from her windpipe and connect it to her food pipe. The operation was a success, but, just 24 hours later, it was discovered that she also had a small hole in her lung and a second operation was required. This also went well, but she emerged from theatre in a very serious condition. “She was artificially paralysed,” says Rob, “and she had pipes, tubes and wires jutting from her at all angles.”
In total, Audrey was in hospital for nine weeks. While she was at St George’s her parents were able to stay in Ronald McDonald House, a specially-built facility for parents of children in hospital, which saved them having to travel backwards and forwards to their home, miles away in Hampshire, each day.
Ronald McDonald House was also a temporary home to the Hall family, whose son, Zach, had been born a week after Audrey. Unlike the Ingles, Dave and Georgia Hall had known for some time that Zach would need special care when he was born, after a scan had revealed that he had a congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH), which means that there is a hole in the baby’s diaphragm, and their internal organs can travel into their chest.
Dave and Georgia had been told that Zach only had a 65% chance of surviving, and that he would need surgery shortly after his birth. When the time came, Zach was born by caesarean and he was put straight into an incubator and paralysed, so that he could be put onto life support.
Zach was taken in for surgery two days after he was born. At first he recovered well, but a couple of days later there was a setback. “It was the worst two days of my life,” says Georgia, “seeing him struggling to breathe, and the doctors pulling the blinds around his incubator. I told him he couldn’t leave me now and he obviously listened because he got stronger every day.” After less than three weeks in hospital Zach was able to go home.
Both Zach and Audrey were operated on by the same surgeon, Mr Zahid Mukhtar. “He’s officially my hero,” says Rob, and the two families have nothing but praise for the medical staff that shepherded their children through their shaky first few weeks of life. “The people we met and the work they did to make our son well are priceless,” says Georgia. “Words can’t express how incredible we think they are – every day they work tirelessly to make premature and poorly babies well and strong.”
The Ingles and the Halls also found strength during a difficult time through their friendships with each other. “It meant the world to talk to people who were going through the same things that we were, and to be able to support each other through a very traumatic experience,” says Georgia. “We talked with them in the waiting area, in the canteen, and in the pub! We’ve made friends for life in Rob and Debbie and we feel honoured to know them.”
Happily, Zach and Audrey are now both doing well. “Zach is thriving,” says Georgia, “he took his first steps at 13 months and he’s now causing havoc wherever he goes, and breaking hearts with his smile.”
“Audrey will probably always struggle with her swallowing,” says Rob, “her breathing rattles most of the time, and she’s still on a cocktail of drugs – but she just seems to deal with it all. We feel so lucky to have such a wonderful little girl. Considering all that she’s been through she’s such a sweet natured little thing – her default setting is smiling and happy and she’s incredibly affectionate toward us, and all her fluffy toys!”
Both families are keen to recognise all that the hospitals did to help their children, and to ensure that other families can experience happy endings like theirs. In December last year they held a dinner and dance event which raised £18,000 for First Touch, the charity which supports the neo-natal unit at St George’s Hospital Tooting. “This place keeps sick babies alive and they do so with limited resources and dwindling funds,” says Rob.
Along with one other family, the two couples’ fundraising efforts have paid for a new ventilator for the neo-natal unit. “We want to raise funds so that we can help other families experience the joy we’ve had in bringing our son home,” says Georgia.
✽ To donate to First Touch, visit www.first-touch.org.uk