Our twins were born at 23 weeks - now we're thanking the neonatal unit for their care

The family of a little girl born prematurely at 23 weeks, whose twin brother sadly didn't survive, will host a fundraiser in aid of the neonatal unit in CUMH this weekend, writes Chris Dunne
Our twins were born at 23 weeks - now we're thanking the neonatal unit for their care
Elsie Halpin and Karen O'Brien Halpin.

WHEN Elsie and Bren were born at 23 weeks; they were tiny, tiny babies.

“They fitted into the palm of my hand,” says Karen Halpin O’Brien, from Blarney.

Karen and her daughter, Elsie, are holding a family fun event in aid of the Neo-Natal unit at CUMH at Vienna Woods Hotel this Sunday, July 15, 2pm to 5pm.

“The twins had to be ventilated after they were born,” says Karen. “They looked so perfect in the incubator with their beanie hats on.

“Elsie weighed 460grams and her brother Bren, weighed 600 grams. There were a few other babies who survived at 23 weeks; but the outcome wasn’t good for twins.”

While the babies were perfectly formed, they were extremely miniature and clung to life by a fine thread. Their parents and the neonatal team at CMUH kept vigil as the babies strived to live.

“The twins, born at 23 weeks were, known as ‘micro-premmies’, says Karen, who together with her husband, Alan Halpin, like many parents, are overjoyed that with medical technology advances, an increasing number of medics are saving the lives of babies born from 22 weeks to full-term.

“We knew that before, babies could only survive up to a certain point.”

The couples ‘warrior princess, Elsie,’ and her brave twin brother, Bren, struggled to survive. The babies had around the clock specialist care and their mum and dad were beside them every day and every night for hours on end.

Sadly, even though Bren seemed to rally well during the crucial 10 days after being born; he lost his fragile hold on life on September 18, 2016.

“Bren was a sick little boy,” says Karen. “We watched over him hour by hour.”

Bren sensed that his loved ones were close by his side.

“Two days before he passed; he improved,” says Karen. “It was like he had turned the corner and he was no longer critical. His passing on that day was unexpected.”

Bren didn’t make it, despite Trojan efforts from the medical team.

His sister, Elsie, however did survived.

Karen, who is a nurse, recalls the day she felt the fateful twinge that would herald her children into the world before time.

“I had a bit of a twinge and a bit of back pain for about day and half,” says Karen.

“I decided to be on the safe side and get checked out. It transpired that I was already in labour.”

The baby boy and girl were whisked to the Neonatal unit in CUMH, where they received expert medical care.

“The midwives were fantastic,” says Karen. “They brought me up and down to the Neo-Natal unit to be with my babies day in-day out for the guts of 11 or 12 hours each time. Our babies got fantastic care, the staff were phenomenal.

“Everyone was so respectful, knowing we had gone through a trauma. The Neo-Natal team not only looked after our babies; they looked after me too.”

Dad was comforted and cosseted in the close supportive circle too.

“Daddies are made feel welcome and they are kept informed continuously,” says Karen.

“When Alan came to the Neo-Natal unit after work, a member of staff would say, Hi Alan. How was your day? Your babies are doing X, Y, or Z today. They make sure that both mum and dad were always up-to- date with all the information.”

The neonatal unit offers a safe haven for parents and premature babies alike.

“It was really wonderful to see the humanity behind the day-to-day intense work environment of the neonatal unit,” says Karen.

“The staff are so sensitive and kind. They have a really lovely way of dealing with the parents who are often stressed and worried. The staff at the neonatal unit cover so much and they help so many people, doing so much more that you might never know about.

“I know friends of mine who had babies at 38 weeks or 40 weeks, who were just as badly affected as we were when our babies were born at 23 weeks,” says Karen.

“The shock of having a premature baby is still the same. No one plans to be in the neonatal unit. The support at the neonatal is always very reassuring and professional.”

The staff there often go beyond the call of duty.

“After baby Bren passed; one of the doctors stayed with him in the family room while we slept,” says Karen.

“The doctor had finished his shift, but yet he stayed with our baby.”

Everything was handled so beautifully, with sensitivity.

Karen wants to show her appreciation for the wonderful care that she and her family received at the neonatalunit.

“If I can do something for just for five seconds; then I would,” says Karen.

“The Victorian tea party on Sunday, is a celebration of life, babies, and the vital work of the neonatal unit in CUMH, raising much needed funds for the wonderful work that the team do.”

Elsie will be in her element amid the proceedings, including BounceBox entertainment, Solid Start, Mini-musicians, baby, toddler, and child friendly games with Baby Sensory, hair and make-up tips from Parlour 21, face-painting and mime. Plus great prizes are also on offer for a fantastic cause.

“The funds will go to the CUMH charity and then to the neonatal unit,” says Karen.

“Elsie will love all the excitement and activity at the tea party. She’s 21 months now,” says Karen.

“Elsie came home from hospital when she was five months. That was a wonderful day.”

She found her feet immediately.

“She’s chatting and walking and doing everything we do.”

Karen wants to give back to the unit who helped her daughter survive and thrive.

“The funds raised will go towards essential equipment for the neonatal unit and a new family room which is in the pipeline.”


High Tea with Elsie and friends in aid of the CUMH neonatal Unit takes place at Vienna Woods Hotel, Glanmire, on Sunday July 15 2pm to 5pm. Tickets are €30 for adults for afternoon tea with prosecco, €6 for children who will enjoy sausages or nuggets, chips and a 99 ice-cream. Babies/toddlers are free to attend.

Advance booking is required on https://elsieshightea.eventbrite.ie

The neonatal unit at CUMH is one of the busiest units in the country, catering for approximately 8,000 births at CUMH last year.

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