'I'm so grateful for all they're doing' - mum of tiny Emma, born almost three months premature
Tiny Emma Hughes weighed just 980 grammes when she was born at 27 weeks, almost three months premature.
Five weeks later, the care and dedication of the staff in the Rotunda Maternity Hospital in Dublin have ensured that Emma is growing and developing steadily.
"I'm so grateful for everything they are doing for Emma," said her mother Linda (34), who keeps daily watch over her daughter.
Dublin residents Linda and husband Gerard (35) were devastated when their first child Aobha did not survive when she was born at just 22 weeks, weighing 350 grammes, after Linda suffered a ruptured uterus. "We knew it was very high risk to try again to have a baby but we both wanted a child so much," she said.
“We decided to rent in Drumcondra so that we could be near The Rotunda when the time came because of the very high risk of another rupture,” said Linda, who is a nurse in the oncology department of Beaumont Hospital.
“I had a lot of anxiety about the pregnancy. Doctor Maeve Eogan was so good and I had weekly scans and check-ups. I was admitted to the hospital at the 22 weeks stage for a week or two. Once we got past that stage, I was able to return to work for two days and felt more confident,” said Linda.
Having been rushed to hospital at 5am on the day Emma was born, Linda was given a general anaesthetic and their daughter was born at 6.20am.
When Linda regained consciousness, it was Gerard who told her the news. “He told me she was ok. We were delighted,” she said.
Emma now weighs 1.5kg but she will have to reach 1.8kg before she is considered for release from the hospital.
“I am here beside Emma most of the day. Gerard comes in every morning and afternoon and evening.
“I am reassured and calm once I know she is fine. The midwives and doctors are wonderful. They are very conscious of the risk of infection and they mind the babies so well. The babies are just so precious,” she said.
“They arrange for me to give Emma what they call ‘Kangaroo Care’ which means placing Emma on my chest skin-to-skin which is really good for her. She goes into a deep, deep sleep when she is on my chest,” she said.
“The care here in the hospital is unbelievably good. They give support and education and have so many procedures to counteract the risk of infection,” she said.
Both Linda and her accountant husband Gerard come from an area near Clones, County Monaghan.
Consultant Neonatologist Michael Boyle said the introduction of extended statutory maternity leave benefits for mothers of premature infants from last month was hugely significant in helping in the care of preterm infants.
“It can’t be stressed enough how very important these payments are in helping families at this important stage,” said Dr Boyle.
Of the 70,000 babies delivered in Ireland every year, 4,500 are born pre-term - one every two hours.
The Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, the second busiest maternity hospital in the country, is celebrating World Prematurity Day by holding a party today for all premature babies born there in 2015 who weighed less than 1.5kg.
Decades ago, babies born at 28 weeks had a slim chance of survival but now babies born at just 26 weeks have an 80pc chance of survival with modern medical care.
Professor Fergal Malone, Master of the Rotunda, said one of the main risk factors for pre-term birth is having delivered pre-term in a prior pregnancy.
"The Rotunda has recently launched a new specialist pre-term birth prevention clinic, in which a dedicated specialist in maternal-foetal medicine reviews all such high-risk mothers," said Prof Malone.
The clinic "provides the latest interventions" to prevent recurrent prematurity, he said.
"In regards to advances in neonatal medicine, we have seen the rates of chronic lung disease halved in the hospital's neonatal unit, which is very promising and reassuring," he said.
One of the biggest changes in helping babies with under- developed lungs to breathe is a process known as "volume guarantee". Professor Naomi McCallion, based at the Rotunda, is one of the world's leading experts in this innovation.
Survival rates nationally for pre-term infants relate to the degree of prematurity.
Dr Michael Boyle, consultant neonatologist at the Rotunda, said it was heartening that far more babies were surviving now with the latest advances in the care available.
Veteran staff recall that many babies surviving now would not have survived a generation ago, he said.
The Rotunda Foundation has launched a new project in which volunteers craft cuddly octopus toys to be placed in incubators with premature infants.
The tentacles can feel like the umbilical cord to babies, with significant calming effects.