Meet Ailbhe – Holles Street's smallest ever surviving baby who weighed just 440 grams at birth
Tearing around the garden on her beloved scooter, Ailbhe Byrne might seem like an average four-year-old, but to the team at Holles Street Maternity Hospital she is nothing short of a miracle.
Born at 23 weeks and six days, Ailbhe weighed just 440g when she was delivered by emergency Caesarean section in October 2012 after her mum Derval O’Carroll became dangerously ill with pre-eclampsia.
“I suffered pre-eclampsia very early on in my pregnancy,” said Derval, who lives in Monkstown in Dublin.
“I began to feel very unwell and at 22 weeks, barely five months gone, I was admitted to hospital. They said I would have to remain there for the rest of my pregnancy. They kept saying they had to get me to 24 weeks, which is seen as a marker.
“I became very unwell and continuing on would have meant my life was at risk. I was brought in for a section at 23 weeks and six days.
“When she was born, the NICU team resuscitated her, but don’t think they realised just how small she was. She was just 440g and I believe she is the smallest ever baby born in Holles Street to survive.”
Derval and her husband Conor were told infants born as early as Ailbhe have a slim chance of survival and were likely to face life-altering physical and intellectual disabilities.
“It was uncharted territory for the team at Holles Street. At 500g the team are confident they can do a good job, but they hadn’t worked with a baby as small as Ailbhe before, although they were amazing.
“She was extremely sick initially and they were very honest about her chance of surviving. Many children born as prematurely as Ailbhe live with catastrophic consequences physically and intellectually. My husband Conor and I were taking it day by day. When your child is sick, as Ailbhe was, you are thrown into a new language and a completely new environment.
“The first milestone was when she survived 24 hours and then when she survived a week. She was ventilated for the first ten weeks of her life,” said Derval.
After four and a half months, Ailbhe was released from hospital and at 14 months, she underwent surgery to repair a hole in her heart.
“When she was 4 and a half months old we were allowed to bring her home, but it was a scary experience because you don’t have the cushion of support as we did at the hospital. She suffered chronic lung disease and had a hole in her heart, so she was on oxygen for the first 15 months of her life. At 14 months old, she had heart surgery and six weeks after that she came off oxygen altogether,” said Derval.
Ailbhe celebrated her fourth birthday in October with her pals in playschool and her mum admits that she wouldn’t have had a chance without the top class team in the maternity hospital.
“The team at Holles Street were a fantastic support, every year we make sure to send them in a cake on her birthday.
“Conor and I got married last year and because we are older parents, we felt we had everything we needed. Instead of presents, we asked our guests to donate to Holles Street, because without them we wouldn’t have Ailbhe.
“It was our way of giving something back to them and an easy way to raise funds,” said Derval.
Ailbhe’s mum revealed the four-year-old’s favourite hobby is to ride around her garden on her prized scooter, but Derval says she never forgets how much of a miracle her daughter is.
“Since having Ailbhe, I’ve become a part of this scene and I’ve met other mums with premature babies and I feel very lucky and fortunate.
“For whatever reason, she survived and doesn’t have any physical or intellectual deficits. She’s hit all her milestones.
“Her favourite thing in the world right now is to scoot and she’s learning Irish at playschool at the moment.
“As parents to a premmy baby, you have so many ups and downs and I feel so fortunate to have a happy healthy four-year-old which wouldn’t have been the case without the amazing team at Holles Street,” she said.
This month marks Premature Awareness Month. To donate to the National Maternity Hospital Text UNIT8 to 50300 to donate €4* to the NMH Foundation.
Texts cost €4. NMH Foundation will receive a minimum of €3.25.
Irish company WaterWipes has produced special “donate packs” for Prematurity Awareness Month. For every 60 pack sold, WaterWipes will donate 10c to the NMH Foundation.