Monday 18 February 2019

'She did everything in her power to live' - Operation Transformation leader pays tribute to her baby who died at just five days old

Jean Tierney and her fiancé Paddy.
Jean Tierney and her fiancé Paddy.
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

One of the leaders on RTE’s Operation Transformation moved viewers to tears when she spoke to presenter Kathryn Thomas about the loss of her five-day-old baby Sloane last year.

Jean Tierney (33) from Limerick revealed how she had an ectopic pregnancy in 2017. Last year, her little baby Sloane, who was born premature but healthy, developed complications and died five days later. Then later last year, Jean suffered a miscarriage.

The sales and marketing manager in House nightclub in Limerick said told Independent.ie today that she hopes by telling her story to the public, she can help others.

“Obviously it’s quite hard to be honest and open and true, you’re putting yourself out there, but I have to believe there’s a reason something like this is happening, that’s just who I am, that’s how I look at it. What I went through with the ectopic pregancy, a neonatal death and a miscarriage, it’s something that people don’t know how to talk about or how to approach, and if hearing my story helps people, then I feel that there was a purpose for it to happen to me.”

“That’s the way I live my life anyway – that you have two choices when things happen to you. You go down one road or the other road.”

“When this happened to me, the amount of women that I knew, that my family knew, and my friends knew that it happened to, but we didn't actually know it had happened to them, was unbelieveable.”

“When Sloane passed away, we didn’t know what way we were going to approach it, because you don’t know until it happens to you. But we had an open funeral – and we asked people two things, that you came with a smile and you came with colourful clothes.”

“We were proud of our daughter because we saw what she did to live for those five days. We wanted to make sure that we honoured her and that we celebrated her life.”

When Jean was pregnant with Sloane, her 31-week scan revealed that there were complications. There was very little fluid around the baby, and her placenta was low. So she spent the next two weeks in hospital.

“I went in for a 31-week scan, it was on the 8th of January last year. I was tiny, nearly two stone lighter than I am now and I had no bump really. I had very little fluid around the baby and the placenta wasn’t working. They started giving me steroids because they wanted to get the placenta moving.”

“I have to say that the maternity hospital in Limerick were amazing to me and Paddy and Sloane and my family. I had spent two weeks in there before she was born and I know it sounds strange to say it but we all had great craic. We did each other’s hair, brought in pizza and Chinese, which is probably why I’m here (with Operation Transformation) now.”

“At no stage was there anything detected with Sloane, just that she was going to be born early. On the 22nd of January she was born, I had a c-section and she came out roaring. She was taken to neonatal, there was no worry, it was just that she was a premature baby.”

However, that day complications arose for little Sloane.

“As the day went on she wasn’t able to breathe at all so she was tubed. And then they knew the next day that she was a sick baby.”

Doctors thought that Sloane’s difficulties were in her lungs, and they organised for six specialist doctors from Sweden to bring her to an ECMO (life saving for people with heart and lung defects) clinic there by helicopter when she was three days old. 

“She flew out on the Wednesday, I came out of hospital on the Thursday. We got a call to say that she was there in Sweden, she was perfect, and she was being tested. Paddy and my dad were going to fly out the following day. There was a liaison in Sweden that was going to look after everything for us.”

“Limerick Maternity hospital rang us at 3.30pm on Thursday asking us to come in and meet them. We knew then that it wasn’t good. We went in to meet them and they had been ringing every hospital to see if there was anything we could do for her.”

Jean and her fiancé Paddy were told that the veins in Sloane’s heart were going the wrong way, and she wouldn’t make it.

Heartbroken, they waited for her to arrive into Shannon, and be brought by garda escort back to Limerick Maternity Hospital.

“Our daughter was so strong to fight. She did everything in her power to live... We were very blessed that she came back to us.”

“She fought two flights – she went to Sweden and then came back to us.”

“She looked after us... we were very proud of her.”

“There’s people who are 30/40/50 years old that don’t have a passport and haven’t left the country. So Sloane has her own little story.”

When doctors turned off the machine that was keeping her breathing, Paddy and Jean were able to spend the next few hours holding her.

“They turned off the machine while we were holding her. They didn’t know how long she’d stay with us. She really was just a true little minx, we thought she’d taken her last breath but then she was with us for two hours after that. There was a doctor called Asma who had been caring for her, and we were asking ‘where’s Asma?’, and then after Asma came in, she took her last breath, it was like she waited for her.”

“For the funeral, we basically said that anyone who wanted to come and celebrate with us, our doors were open from 5.30pm that day. The people that came, we couldn’t believe it. There aren’t often open baby funerals. We were glad people came. You had to come with a smile and colourful clothes. Our family could come in and out and spend time with Sloane.”

“We asked for donationas, not flowers. And we raised over 3,500 in her name. 1,000 went to the ECMO team in Sweden, and 2,500 went to the Maternity Hospital in Limerick.”

“We knew the price of the cuddle cot if they wanted it to go towards that, or breastfeeding pumps are expensive as well.”

In her short life, Sloane was granted an emergency passport, flew to Sweden, and had a garda escort bring her home.

Jean and Paddy, who named their daughter Sloane because it means ‘warrior’, have learned so much from how their daughter fought to live.

“We do things differently now, we look for the best in things. Don’t get me wrong, there are days when you don’t want to face the world. I’m on this show to help me but also to help others.”

“For us, it’s to honour her memory and celebrate it, there are days when we’re very sad, but it’s about getting up and making the most of our day. To give her any justice we have to do it. This year will be much brighter.”

"I’ve grown up around people that instilled a belief in us that you have the choice. Karren Brady was at the Pendulum summit this morning saying, ‘if you don’t like the music decide how you’re going to dance to that tune’... Where I come from, our community is like ‘how can you turn something bad into something good?’ I always try to smile because there might be someone out there who needs that smile.”

Paddy and Jean, who first met when Jean was 16, are looking at this year as a bright start.

“Whilst you’re the woman going through it, you have a husband, a partner, a dad, who is just as emotionally hurt with everything that’s going on.”

“We’re a good strong couple. We’ve been together for three years. Our story started back when we were 16, we had a few encounters, but then when I was 30 and he was 32, we said let’s make a go of it.”

“Paddy will probably say I was the one scooting off, he always slags me over that, he says he loved me since he was 16. One day I was turning 30 and I just couldn’t stop thinking about him, and I texted him do you want to go for a walk.”

“We got engaged on April Fool’s day because we’re messers. Hopefully that’s what people see. I’m always looking at goals and positive thinking.”

“I love my job, I love talking to people - everyone has a story, if you can take one positive thing from everyone you meet, isn’t your life fuller.”

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