Just 2lbs when she was born, our little girl is thriving...thanks to staff at CUH

A family wanted to thank Cork University Hospital Neo Natal Unit for the support they gave them when their little girl was born premature. They tell EMMA CONNOLLY how they helped fund a book that helps and supports siblings through a difficult time
Just 2lbs when she was born, our little girl is thriving...thanks to staff at CUH

LAUNCH EVENT: From left, Professor Tony Ryan, Neonatologist, CUMH, Margaret O’ Driscoll CNM 3, Dr Gene Dempsey, Neonatologist , CUMH, Neonatal Unit, Gail Condon, TiNY Health, Ms. Rosie Carter, Grainne Heaphy, fund raiser and parent Ms Aoibhinn Heaphy, Lynn Heaphy, fund raiser and parent, Miriam Forde, CUH Charity, Dr Brendan Murphy, Neonatologist CUMH, and Dr Mick Carter, CUH and TiNY Health.

A ROUTINE 28-week scan led to a Cork couple’s first child being delivered by emergency C-section just over three hours later, weighing only 2lbs.

And they were so grateful for the care their daughter and they received at the neo natal unit at Cork University Hospital, that they have donated to a project to help others in a similar situation.

Fund-raising by Grainne Ni Laoithe, a teacher at Glanmire Community College, and her partner, Lynne Heaphy, has resulted in the publication of a story for siblings of infants who are patients of the neonatal unit.

The birth of a premature or sick baby into the neonatal unit can be distressing for an older sibling, who is not allowed into the neonatal unit for infection control purposes, and the 20 page booklet is designed to address this.

Grainne picks up the story: “From early on in our relationship, it was clear to both of us that it was important to us to have a family. We knew this would probably be a long road.

“After several rounds of fertility treatment, Lynne became pregnant in 2015 with our little daughter, Aoibhinn.”

However, a 28 week scan showed Lynne’s placenta was breaking down, meaning their unborn child was being starved of oxygen.

“She was quickly rushed to the high dependency unit where Aoibhinn was later delivered by C section,” says Grainne. “It all happened really fast — our scan was at 3.30pm and Aoibhinn was delivered at 6.48pm.

“She was only 910grams (2lbs) when she was born and she was rushed to the neo natal unit and we spent the next 10 and a half weeks there.”

Grainne said never in a million years did they imagine being in such a situation but they learned to take it ‘day by day’ despite it being a really tough time.

AN IMPORTANT STORY: The front cover of the booklet by TINYhealth, aimed at helping children understand the neonatal unit.
AN IMPORTANT STORY: The front cover of the booklet by TINYhealth, aimed at helping children understand the neonatal unit.

“From the minute we entered the unit, the kindness and care we were shown by all the staff, doctors nurses and care staff included, was unbelievable and made our journey so much easier.

“They minded us moms as well as our tiny baby and were so giving of their time,” added the teacher of Irish and History.

The couple quickly developed a new routine: Grainne returned to work after two weeks, Lynne, a swim teacher, was on maternity leave and the pair spent every minute they could in the hospital with their newborn.

“I’d go to work; go to the hospital after school; go home around 6.30pm and get ready for the next day and then return — and that was my favourite time of the day when the lights were turned down and it was just like any nursery,” she said.

She added that it was all made that little bit easier knowing Aoibhinn was assured of lots of extra cuddles from the nurses when they weren’t there themselves.

But, she admits, it was very much a rollercoaster for the couple, often being a case of two steps forward, three steps back.

Premature babies are particularly vulnerable when it comes to their lungs and Aoibhinn was no exception, battling infections. Grainne admitted her hands were ‘raw’ from cleaning them, such was their awareness of her vulnerability.

But February 13, 2016 marked the day she went home to Berrings and the three haven’t looked back since.

Grainne said: “Bringing her home was a little daunting. Lynne is more relaxed than me which is why we make a good pair but we gradually grew more confident.”

Grainne knew they wanted to help pay forward the kindness shown to them.

“The day Aoibhinn came home, I spoke with the manager of the neo natal unit to see where any money we raised could be best directed and she suggested a book for siblings was something that she was enthusiastic to develop.”

Grainne and Lynne raised €6,708.04 though a sponsored cycle, with the help of Cork’s Little Heroes.

The money raised was then donated to the Cork University Maternity Hospital which commissioned the booklet.

The neonatal intensive care unit can be a distressing environment for both the parents and the sick/premature infant. However, the birth of a premature or sick baby into the neonatal unit can be equally distressing for the older sibling who is not allowed into the neonatal unit for infection control purposes.

TURNING THE PAGE: One of the drawings in the new TINYhealth booklet.
TURNING THE PAGE: One of the drawings in the new TINYhealth booklet.

Research by midwives has shown the needs of the older siblings of babies admitted to the neonatal are very often forgotten, not at the fault of the parents or extended family, but due to the high levels of stress experienced by the family. Infants can be cared for in the neonatal unit for several weeks, even months on end.

The effect of the added stress on the family can be considered to be similar to that of a family caring for a chronically sick child at home. This puts a strain on the family’s financial, physical and emotional resources, and results in the family routine becoming adjusted around the needs of the sick infant, and thus, decreasing the attention given to needs of the sibling.

This is difficult to communicate to a young child. Resentment, fear, anger and guilt are common feelings for a child with a new sibling to experience, however these feelings may be made worse by the arrival of an unwell baby.

The booklet was written and illustrated by TiNY Health which was founded by paediatic nurse, Gail Condon and paediatric doctor, Dr Mick Carter (who cared for Aoibhinn whilst in the neonatal unit).

TINY Health aims to help children to understand the neonatal unit, and to encourage them to express their anxieties.

It firstly focuses on becoming big sister/brother; it then explores the new baby’s presence in the neonatal unit and the challenges that come with that. Finally, it shows the new baby coming home. It addresses common feelings found in siblings of premature babies including a feeling of exclusion. The booklet also includes a four-page workbook, in which the child is encouraged to draw their own experiences, to share their feelings and to look positively to the future with their new little sister or brother.

Grainne adds: “Aoibhinn turned two on December 1 and we are blessed that she is doing fantastic, reaching all her milestones and bossing everyone around.

“We are delighted with how the booklet turned out and we will be eternally grateful to all the amazing people we met in the Neo natal unit at CUMH for all the care and kindness they have shown our family. It is definitely something we will never forget and we hope that our efforts will help them in their work and families that will experience the neo natal unit in the years to come.’

The booklet will be made available to parents in the CUMH Neonatal Unit. See www.tinyhealth.info

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