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Laura's Story

Miracle Baby defies the odds to survive

Special care from the Portland’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit saves baby Grey born at 31 weeks. 

When Laura Capstick-Dale and her husband Nick brought their tiny son Grey home for the first time this summer, the couple were in no doubt about one thing. 

‘The staff at the Portland Hospital saved our son’s life – it was their attention to detail and caring attitude that means Grey is here with us today,’ says Laura, a jewellery designer, who lives with Nick, a property developer, and their son Nate, two, in London.

 ‘We had the best specialists on call to speak to any time, modern technology and the nurses were just amazingly kind and caring. They were our friends, our family, we cried with them, we laughed with them and they made a horrendous experience vaguely bearable.’ 

Grey was born premature at just 31 weeks in March this year after Laura started bleeding and having contractions. 

He was delivered by emergency Caesarean section weighing 4lbs and, initially, seemed healthy. However, later that day, he was put on a ventilator after he started having breathing problems, and heart problems were also detected including a hole in the heart and valves that hadn’t closed. 

Worse was to follow when Grey developed sepsis and lost all the weight he had gained since birth. Doctors suspected he was developing a disease that affects premature babies called necrotising enterocolitis, where parts of the bowel start to die. Only one in five who have a confirmed diagnosis survive. 

Luckily, Grey’s infection was caught early and treated with antibiotics and intra-venous nutrition, avoiding surgery. However, he still ended up spending eight weeks in hospital – five and a half of them in the Portland’s Neonata Intensive Care Unit (NICU). ‘It was horrendous,’ recalls Laura.‘ I would sit by his cot for 10 to 12 hours a day, he had over 60 cannulas inserted in the first six weeks, and sometimes it would take five or six attempts to get them in as his tiny veins had collapsed and he would be crying and screaming. It was like a slice of heaven and hell – a beautiful new baby but one who was desperately ill and having to fight for his life.’ 

Grey was cared for by a team of top medical specialists including neonatologists and paediatricians. 

‘I always felt we were in the best place and Grey would be safe at the Portland,’ says Laura. ‘There was one point where there was a possibility he might need a heart operation at Great Ormond Street. In the event, he didn’t need the operation but, if he had, he would have come back to the Portland within two days – that was very important to us.’ 

It was Laura’s second premature birth at the Portland - her elder son Nate was born at 34 weeks and spent one day in intensive care, five days in special care and a further eight days in transitional care in 2012. 

The Portland’s three-cot Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and fourcot Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU)

are both equipped with the latest equipment to monitor and care for babies with complex medical needs or post-surgical problems. This includes ventilators and brain function monitors. 

Dr Simon Bignall, a Consultant Paediatrician and Neonatologist and Director of the Unit, says: ‘We have a team of six neonatologists on a rota to give 24 hour care, all of whom have practised at a very high level in leading NHS hospitals. 

‘The team has a daily ward round and conference at which we’ll decide if a baby needs input from a sub-specialist such as a cardiologists or a dietitian. If a baby is very sick, this happens twice a day. Babies can become very ill extremely fast and also recover very quickly, so we are always on the lookout for signs of infection.’ 

‘The environment of NICU is designed to reduce stress to babies – there is low level lighting and we try to reduce any sharp abrupt noises. We also involve patients in care as much as possible and encourage skin-to-skin contact. Parents get a very personalised service from the consultants and nursing staff.’

 The unit has just taken delivery of a special brain function monitor which can measure brain activity. ‘This is particularly useful where a baby has had a difficult birth – for instance, if they are born with no heart beat and have to be resuscitated - as we know the 6 to 12 hours after the birth, the brain can produce toxic chemicals which can cause secondary damage to the brain,’ explains Dr Bignall.

‘Low levels or abnormal brain activity can be detected by the monitor and we can transfer the baby to a nearby centre for brain cooling treatment, which can help prevent secondary brain damage.’

For Laura, the level of care Grey received was something she’ll never forget. ‘Grey is really thriving now - he’s feeding well and is such a chilled baby, taking everything in his stride. He is seeing a developmental therapist to check he is meeting his developmental milestones, but all the signs are that he’s healthy. We are thankful everyday to have him home. He is a true miracle.’

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