The idea a baby could be premature wasn't on our radar
When little Mikey Derek Davis arrived 13 weeks early, his parents were in for a rollercoaster ride
With his toothy grin, round rosy face and adorable chubby arms, Mikey Derek Davis looks every inch the happy, healthy toddler. You would never guess that the thriving two-year-old had spent the first few months of his life hooked up to machines under the watchful eye of doctors and nurses at Dublin's Coombe hospital, when he was born 13 weeks premature.
As you've maybe guessed from his name, facial similarities, or perhaps even his evident ease in front of a camera, Mikey is the grandson of legendary RTÉ broadcaster, the late Derek Davis. He's now inherited his grandad's height, but when Mikey was born, weighing a tiny two-and-a-half pounds, his dad, Michael, joked that he was barely 'the size of a small Davis breakfast'.
His mum Georgina Couling had started feeling twinges during her 27th week of pregnancy. It was her first child and she was completely unprepared for what was about to happen. "The idea that our baby could be premature wasn't even on our radar," she says. "Suddenly you're being told 'this child is arriving today' and you just think 'right, lets get through the next 24 hours,' you can't think beyond that."
She was admitted to the Coombe where, in a strange twist of fate, Mikey - whose due date was supposed to be February 12, 2014 - was actually born on November 17, 2013: International Prematurity Day. "He had a dark sense of humour," laughs Georgina, able to joke about it now. But at the time it was difficult to see the humour in the situation.
Baby Mikey was whisked away to the neonatal intensive care unit and the couple were told his first 72 hours would be critical. It was a week before his mum or dad had a chance to hold him and even then it was only for a short period of time. "We did 'kangaroo care', which is skin to skin time for mum and baby," explains Georgina. "They had to unplug Mikey from the machines and take off his tiny mask and I would sit with him tucked down my top like a little teddy for two hours before he was taken away again and put back in his fishtank.
"We did that every three or four days. My own greedy nature just wanted to cuddle him, and keep him in my arms and kiss the face off him but taking him out was quite disruptive to him and he needed time to get hardier."
Georgina, a relationship manager at Bar of Ireland Financial Services, was determined to remain positive but it was difficult to avoid dark thoughts. There were times when she wondered if his early delivery was her fault. She beat herself up and felt angry and hurt at being cheated out of a full-term pregnancy, holding her baby after labour and getting to bring him home straight away.
"I'd like to go back and tell me not to be so hard on myself," she says honestly. "But it's hard not to wallow in self pity or wonder 'how did this happen to me?'
"You feel you're supposed to have nine months of pregnancy, feel all the kicking, get the big bump, have the baby and then take the baby home - that's 'normal'. If there are 10 boxes in the whole process to be ticked off, then it felt like we only got one or two."
But it's always at the forefront of her mind that they were the lucky ones, eventually they got to take Mikey home. The next few months were spent shuttling between their home in Newbridge, Co Kildare and the Coombe. Christmas came and they went to Michael's parents' home, where Derek had made a big buffet. But instead of enjoying their baby's first Christmas, together as a family, the couple spent the day in the car and the hospital, making two long trips to sit by Mikey's incubator.
The dedication of the staff helped them through. "The staff were fantastic," says Georgina. "One doctor dressed up as Santa and photos were taken with the babies. When we came in there was a little present and a poem for us from Mikey - it was incredibly touching."
On another occasion a nurse noticed a slight change in Mikey's colour that alerted them to an episode of Bradycardia and apnoea, a situation common in premature babies, when Mikey's brain 'forgot' to send the message to his heart and lungs reminding them to beat and breathe.
"The machines started to bleep as he struggled for breath, it frightened the life out of me," says Georgina. "But whilst it was terrifying, it was also really reassuring to know that the nurse had been keeping a close eye on him, and noticed something was wrong even before the machines went off.
"The staff, and I think we knew everyone by the time we took Mikey home, were amazing," she continues. "They love and adore the babies like their own. No matter how busy they were, I always felt I could ask them anything and they were always asking after our own well-being too, whether we were sleeping, how we were eating - we never felt like we were on our own."
On January 15, 2014 Georgina and Michael finally got to bring Mikey home. His heart-warming story of survival is now one of 12 remarkable family's tales featured in the 2016 Friends of The Coombe charity calendar. The fundraising project, launched last week by presenter, and mum-of-three to be Pamela Flood, aims to raise €70,000, a sum urgently needed to buy four cosy cot infant warmers for babies who, like Mikey, arrive into the world well before their due dates and spend the first weeks of their little lives, fighting for life in the neonatal unit at the Coombe hospital.
"The mind does wonder, and you can't help thinking what would have happened if Mikey had been born 40 or even 10 years ago without the machinery to keep his lungs from collapsing," says Georgina. "I wouldn't like to guess what his survival rate would have been if it hadn't been for the Coombe."
His granddad Derek was one of the first in line longing to hold Mikey once he left hospital. "Derek was Mikey's biggest fan," smiles Georgina. "He loved him and was honoured, charmed and delighted to receive an honourable mention in his name."
The broadcaster's death in May earlier this year, at the age of 67 was, she says, "a terrible loss". "It's my biggest sadness that Derek didn't live long enough for Mikey and him to have more time together."
Not long ago they were in the Davis house when Mikey picked up a photo of Derek fishing and brought it into the living room. "He said 'daddad' and kissed the photo," says Georgina. "We nearly broke down."
He has inherited several of his granddad's traits, including his sociability. At the recent calendar launch, he towered over some of the other tots but insisted on getting down on his knees to babble with other babies. Georgina was delighted to get involved with the fundraiser calendar and share her family's story to help a great cause.
"I also want people to know that, while it's tough, it does get better and Mikey is living proof," she explains. "Yes, there were dark days and nights when we went home feeling empty and bereft, but time passes and it doesn't feel so raw. Reaching Mikey's first birthday was a big turning point, it felt like a clean slate, like we'd put a difficult start behind us.
"I called in to the Coombe not long ago to say 'hi'. The staff see all these little one and two-pound morsels come into the world. Mikey's now in the 98th centile for his height. He talks, sings, dances and laughs. He runs everywhere, eats everything and is showing signs of becoming a nifty little footballer.
"I wanted to show those wonderful nurses my lovely 30lb bruiser and say 'This is one you made, thank you!'"
The 2016 Friends of The Coombe calendar is available for €10. To buy it, visit friendsofthecoombe.ie, email firstname.lastname@example.org, call 01 408 5539 or visit the hospital reception desk
Any birth that occurs at less than 37 weeks is defined by the World Health Organisation as "premature".
According to the most recent statistics from the CSO, more than 4,500 babies are born premature in Ireland every year - that's roughly one in every 16 births (irishprematurebabies.com).
The causes of premature birth are often not clearly understood. Around 50pc of pre-term births occur spontaneously with no known cause. Some 30pc are attributed to PROM, premature rupture of membranes, and up to 20pc to a medical issue arising in mother or baby.