Touching Lives - July 2008
My two little miracles
Paige Surtees was born on January 17 this year, three months early and weighing just 2lb. She spent the first four months of her life on the special care baby unit at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary, and is making excellent progress. But for mum Tracy this isn’t the first time she’s been through the emotional rollercoaster of having a very premature baby.
In 2005, Tracy’s son, Richard, was born at just 27 weeks gestation. He was a little bigger at birth than his new sister, weighing 2lb 4oz. Thankfully, Richard recovered from his dramatic early arrival and is now a healthy toddler, who recently celebrated his third birthday. But Tracy, 24, still doesn’t know why she has been unable to carry either of her children to term.
Second time unlucky
Taking up the story, Tracy says, “Because I’d had a premature baby before, the hospital was keeping a very close eye on me this time around. I really didn’t expect to go through it all again. I was having scans every two weeks, but during the last one the doctors found signs that I was going into labour early again. I was only 26 weeks pregnant.
“They kept me in hospital and gave me medication to try and delay it. They also tried to put in a cervical stitch, but that only lasted one night before I eventually went into labour. I’d managed to hold on for six days.”
Like her brother, baby Paige had to be put straight onto a ventilator. “When Richard was born we were terrified because he was so small and his skin was quite see-through,” recalls Tracy. “There are all these wires and machines — ^you just don’t realise all the machinery that goes into keeping these little babies alive.^
“Paige was even smaller, but quite pink. She didn’t actually look as sick as Richard did, but all these thoughts run through your head. You never know what’s around the corner and every baby is different. It’s been very emotional.”
For the first four months after Paige was born, family life revolved around hospital visits. Their usual routine saw Tracy and Richard visit in the morning, while her partner Richie took over in the evening.
Having had two babies born so early, the couple have faced some frightening moments. Premature babies are very susceptible to infection and Richard had to have two blood transfusions to help him overcome a yeast infection during his 11-week stay on the special care baby unit. Paige, meanwhile, has had three blood transfusions — one to help her fight an infection and two for anaemia. At one point shortly after she was born her weight dropped to just 1lb 10oz.
Although Paige was born just under a week earlier than her brother, Tracy says those few days seem to have made a significant difference, with Paige spending four weeks longer than Richard in special care.
Despite the dangers that babies born so early face, neither Richard nor Paige show any sign of ill health. As Touching Lives went to press Paige’s weight was up to 6lb 5oz and Tracy and Richie were enjoying their first weeks at home as a family.
“Paige is doing really well and is almost like a normal baby now, although she’s still quite small,” says Tracy. “She fits into newborn baby clothes and its lovely being able to go and pick her up for a cuddle without having to ask the nurses first.
“Richard can also touch her and get to know her better without us worrying too much. Before we had to be very careful. He was getting a bit fed up with all the hospital visits and kept asking when his sister would be coming home.”
Paige will still need oxygen to support her breathing for the next few months - again something her parents went through with Richard. “^It’s scary enough bringing your child home, but when they’re still on oxygen it’s terrifying^,” says Tracy. Once again, specialist equipment has been fitted in the family home and the couple have been trained how to use it and what to do in an emergency.
Tracy has been a loyal supporter of our relaunched STAND UP for Tiny Lives Campaign, working with Action Medical Research and the media in Newcastle to raise awareness of the need for greater government funding into research to help tackle premature birth. She has allowed ITV Tyne Tees news to follow Paige’s story, and given interviews in the Newcastle Journal and on air for BBC Radio Newcastle and Century FM.
Tracy says, “I’m glad to be able support the Campaign and hope I can help make a difference. Every little thing counts. The doctors don’t know why I have been unable to carry my babies to term, which is why I think it’s so important for the government to do more to help them find answers. I wouldn’t want any other family to go through what we have.
“I feel very lucky to have had two premature babies who, so far, appear to have nothing wrong. I’ve met other parents whose babies have had more complications, and I know that it’s quite common for premature babies to be deaf or blind.”
The brain scans Paige has had so far have all been fine and she has passed sight and hearing tests, although doctors say they can’t be certain there’s been no lasting effect until a child is around two years old. For now though, Tracy is simply thrilled to have Paige home at last. “I thought the day might never come,” she says.