Sive, our miracle girl -- born at 23 weeks, weighing just one pound
After months of round-the-clock care, this premature baby is thriving writes Anita Guidera
Ireland's smallest, surviving premature baby, Sive McDonald, passed another major milestone in June when she celebrated her first birthday.
For parents, Aisling and John, who had their precious daughter christened on the same day, it was the moment they could finally begin to imagine a future with their own little miracle.
The tiny tot earned her place in the history books last year when she arrived unexpectedly into the world, 16 weeks early, at just 23 weeks and five days, and weighing just 420 grams, or less than a pound.
The length of a pen, Sive, who could fit comfortably in the palm of her father's hand, defied the odds and survived.
A premature baby is defined as a baby born between 28 and 36 weeks gestation, which accounts for just under 6% of babies born in Ireland.
The youngest surviving premature baby is believed to be Amillia Sonja Taylor, who was 9.5 inches (24.13cm ) long and weighed less than 10 ounces (283 grammes), when she was born in Florida in 2007, after less than 22 weeks in the womb.
But revolutionary advances in technology and neonatal medicine in the care of premature babies in recent years, have increased survival rates and made 'prem babies' less vulnerable to serious health problems.
After five months of intensive round-the-clock treatment in the special baby unit in Waterford Regional Hospital, Sive was ready to go home, and has been making steady progress since.
On June 11, family and friends , some who were meeting her for the first time, travelled from far and wide for her milestone first birthday and christening celebrations at the McDonalds' Kilkenny home.
"I was so proud of her in her little dress, but it was an emotional day for myself and Aisling as well. We have her a year and there were times we never thought we would see that," said John.
In a matter of hours on June 11 last year, Aisling, who was suffering from pre-eclampsia, or high blood pressure, went from feeling unwell to being admitted to hospital and undergoing an emergency C-section.
They were told to expect the worst, but Sive clung to life, receiving intensive care from a team of over 40 for the first five months of her life.
"It was tough. When we look back now it was like a bad dream. For the first three- and-a-half months, we were just taking it hour by hour. It was only when we were preparing to take her home that it hit us that she was going to make it," said John.
Despite the health risks associated with extreme premature babies, Sive has passed all her tests to date, with flying colours.
"She is coming on in leaps and bounds and is doing lots of good stuff now. A week after her birthday she started rolling and getting inquisitive and picking up stuff and passing things from one hand to the other," said John.
Sive continues to attend the Waterford unit, where she is something of a celebrity, for regular check-ups. She is receiving physiotherapy to help her to crawl but eyesight and hearing tests have come up clear. She has also tested negative for conditions such as cerebral palsy.
She now weighs an impressive 9.3kg, more than 16 times her birth weight and measures over 70cm in length. She is eating solids, keeping her parents awake at night with teething and showing the first signs of inheriting her Dad's red hair gene.
"She has a great head of hair which is going a little red and her eyebrows are quite fair but she has Aisling's face, her blue eyes and big eyelashes. She is absolutely beautiful," said her doting Dad.
Like many parents of premature babies, Aisling and John are keen to support hospitals that have facilities for premature babies, and are actively fundraising for a Giraffe Omnibed Incubator for the Waterford unit.
The recently formed Irish Premature Babies charity (irishprematurebabies.com), which provides support for parents and hospitals, is also involved in a major fundraising drive to provide accommodation for parents who have to stay in Dublin while their premature infant is receiving treatment.
"We have had people who contacted our helpline telling us they had to sleep in cars because they could not afford accommodation costs. It is a huge problem area that we are looking into at the moment," explained spokesperson Grace Kinsella.
Grace, whose daughter Keely was born at 27 weeks' gestation, said the support group is essential for parents who are going through a very traumatic time."It is really a journey into the unknown. I know from having been there myself, how important it is to have other mothers to talk to who have been through the same experience," she said.