Cork mum: Brú Columbanus was a lifesaver when our son was born premature

West Cork based mum Lisa O’Callaghan has contributed to a new cook book in aid of Bru Columbanus - which she and her family used when her son was born prematurely, writes COLETTE SHERIDAN
Cork mum: Brú Columbanus was a lifesaver when our son was born premature

Lisa O'Callaghan, husband Dan and baby Robbie.

“I CAN’T imagine how I would have coped if it wasn’t for Brú Columbanus.” 

So says the mother of 14-month-old Robbie, who was born two and a half months prematurely.

Lisa O’Callaghan and her husband Dan live in Clonakilty so being able to avail of the ‘home from home’ close to Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH) was a lifesaver.

Now, in gratitude for the facility where she stayed for six weeks after Robbie’s birth, Lisa has contributed to Not Just A Cookbook, which features heart-warming stories from families who have stayed in Brú Columbanus as well as from volunteers with their favourite recipes included in the book.

Brú Columbanus provides accommodation for the relatives of seriously ill patients in Cork hospitals and the hospice, especially parents of sick children. It has 26 en-suite family rooms with kitchens and lounges. Since the facility opened in October, 2005, it has accommodated over 9,500 families.

A bedroom at Bru Columbanus in Wilton, Cork
A bedroom at Bru Columbanus in Wilton, Cork

Brú Columbanus depends on donations and fund-raising initiatives to cover the running costs of the house.

Lisa recalls how, in level 5 lockdown, her waters broke at 25 weeks.

“I was admitted to hospital and was there for five weeks before Robbie was born. 

"Up until that point, there were no issues with the pregnancy. It was hard going because once I went into A&E at CUMH, I wasn’t able to tell my husband what was going on, due to the restrictions.”

While in the ante-natal ward, Lisa was monitored closely, with scans carried out every second day. At 30 weeks, she started to feel tightening one night so called the midwife.

“I was taken down to the high dependency unit. It was thought Robbie might be on his way. I was having contractions which weren’t really progressing.

“But the next morning, my infection marks were up so they said it would be safer for Robbie to be born. This was at 30 weeks and three days.

“I had him naturally but they had to bring on the contractions with oxytocin. The labour was very quick because Robbie was so small. He got stuck in my pelvis on the way out so he was all bruised because of that. I was close to having a C-section.”

Robbie was born weighing just 1.14kg (2lbs 8oz). A full team presented itself to Lisa.

“There were consultants, doctors and nurses from the neo-natal unit. 

"Robbie was taken away so that all the checks could be made on him.

"They tried to intubate him but he fought it off. So they gave him oxygen but he only needed that for a few hours. He was put in ICU ‘A’ in the neo-natal unit.”

Not Just a Cookbook, which is being sold to raise funds for Brú Columbanus. All the contributors have used the service.
Not Just a Cookbook, which is being sold to raise funds for Brú Columbanus. All the contributors have used the service.

Five hours after Robbie was born, Lisa and Dan were allowed to see him.

“He was small even for his early gestation. There were two issues; one was the premature rupture of the membranes (the waters breaking). Also, there was intrauterine restricted growth which meant Robbie was very small.”

At the hospital, a nurse advised Lisa to apply to stay in Brú Columbanus.

“I got a room straight away. Leaving the hospital after five weeks in full lockdown meant that I was quite institutionalised. 

"I had heard of Brú Columbanus before but you never expect to need to use it.”

Robbie was in the neo-natal unit for six weeks. Lisa expressed breast milk every three hours.

“I was back and forth to the hospital a lot. My days were very structured. I would take milk across to the hospital, stay for a while with the baby, get some lunch and go back to Brú where I’d maybe get some rest. Expressing the milk, including at night time, was very tiring.”

While this was a worrying time for Lisa and Dan, she says they were very lucky that Robbie didn’t give them any scares.

“He made progress every day. He only stayed in ICU ‘A’ for about five days where there is one-to-one nursing. Then he was moved to ICU ‘B’ where he spent most of his time with two to three babies per nurse. It’s a small bit more relaxed.

“We were home within six days of Robbie being take out of the incubator and into a cot.”

On discharge from the hospital, Robbie weighed 2.32kg (5lbs 1oz).

Dan came to the hospital when he could.

“He was training to be a Garda at the time. Because of Covid, the training was put on hold. Dan was stationed in Bandon.

“I remember one night, he finished the night shift early and he went to see Robbie at four in the morning. He would come up when it suited him and he stayed with me.”

Lisa only went home to Clonakilty on two occasions during Robbie’s stay in hospital.

“I was putting too much pressure on myself to be home and not in Cork. 

"Doing a bit of shopping in SuperValu, I’d meet people I knew. It was very hard. They knew I had a baby but I didn’t have him with me. That was stressful.”

Lisa O'Callaghan's contribution to Not Just a Cookbook.
Lisa O'Callaghan's contribution to Not Just a Cookbook.

When babies are born prematurely, they don’t develop their suck and swallow until at least 34 weeks.

“Once Robbie was 34 weeks, we had to try and teach him, at every opportunity, how to suck and swallow the feed himself.

“Up until then, he was being fed by a tube which was put into his stomach. He did really well.

“Within the six days of being moved into a cot, he started to take a bottle. I tried some breast feeding as well.

“The aim was to get him to feed solely on his own for 48 hours. He was discharged then.”

Robbie is now doing really well.

“He’s really catching up. He is crawling around the place, pulling himself up, and he’ll climb the stairs if he gets the chance.”

After discharge, Robbie was referred to different services such as physiotherapy and ophthalmology.

He also had appointments with paediatrics and occupational therapy.

“We’ve been discharged from all of that because he is doing so well. There will be one more appointment with a paediatrician. But there are no issues.”

Lisa works as a scientist for a biopharmaceutical company.

“When you have a premature baby, the weeks they’re premature by are added on to maternity leave. I took the full paid leave and two and a half months unpaid leave. I was out from work for just over a year.”

The whole experience of having a premature baby was hard, says Lisa, and it really hit her when she got home.

“The week before Robbie came home from hospital, my husband was training. He had to go to Templemore for three months. I just kept going as much as I could.”

The Atrium at Bru Columbanus in Wilton, Cork
The Atrium at Bru Columbanus in Wilton, Cork

As Lisa says, Brú Columbanus “helped us to cope with a very hard situation and it kept me standing”.

She adds: “If it wasn’t for Brú, my parents would probably have helped us pay to stay in a B&B.”

Lisa was able to avail of what was “basically like a double hotel room. There were four kitchens within one. Because of Covid, you were assigned to your specific kitchen and table so there was no crossover between families.”

The front-of-house staff at Brú Columbanus were a great support to Lisa, contributing towards making the whole difficult experience as pleasant as possible.

Not Just A Cookbook retails at €20 and is available at

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