24 weeks gestation
This story was published in Take 5 Magazine issue No 29, dated July 27 2005. Reproduced here with permission. Copywrite of this story remains with Take 5 and must not be reproduced without permission.
When Lisa’s twins were born at 24 weeks, doctors did everything they could to save them. But that might not always be the case. There was still a question over whether or not I was actually pregnant when I was rushed to hospital with severe nausea. “Its hyperstimulation, caused by the increased amounts of hormones in your body from the IVF,” the doctor said. “It’s serious, but it does mean you might be pregnant.” “Please let it have worked this time,” I said to Ken, 38, my husband of four years.
It was our second attempt at In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF). I was still in intensive care when the positive pregnancy test came back. An ultrasound at seven weeks confirmed I was carrying twins. “It’s all been worth it for two!” Ken said with a huge grin.
At our 22 week scan in mid-January we found out the twins were boys. “Both coming along nicely at about 400g each,” the specialist said. Two weeks later, I was sitting at my desk at the Distance and e-Learning Centre at the University of Southern Queensland when I started to feel a tightening around my chest. It didn’t stop me from working and went away after an hour. But later that night, it happened again. Ken was away on business so I called my neighbour Linda, a midwife. It’s probably Braxton Hicks or false contractions, but call me tomorrow if it gets worse,” she said
By 8am the following morning I was worried. “Linda, it’s Lisa, can you come over? Something is not right,” I told her. Linda arrived and we were on our way to hospital before I had a chance to call Ken. “Don’t panic, but I think you’re in premature labour,” Linda said. “Those pains every five minutes are contractions.” While Linda called Ken, I received more worrying news at Toowoomba Hospital. “You’re almost fully dilated and one baby’s head is crowning,” the doctor said. Through my tears I tried to convince him that he had to be wrong. “I can’t be having them now – I’m only six months gone!”
Ken arrived an hour later to find me distraught. “We don’t have the facilities or the special-care baby equipment here to treat 24 week babies,” the doctor explained to us. “There is only a very slim chance the twins will survive if you stay here. I’m sorry, but you need to get to Brisbane.” Before I was to be airlifted out of Toowoomba, I was also told that the twins had only a 25 per cent chance of surviving even if I got to the hospital in time.
But a freak windstorm meant the helicopter wouldn’t be able to land at the hospital, so I was to be taken instead by a speeding ambulance for the 130km trip to Brisbane. I was then warned that if either of the boys were born during the 90-minute journey without the specialist care they would need, they’d die. The doctor also asked whether I wanted a priest. “No, thank you, my babies are going to be just fine,” I remembered answering, determined to stay positive. Luckily, the contractions had stopped by the time we arrived at Brisbane’s Mater Hospital.
I was given steroids to help the babies lungs develop, but at 10pm an ultrasound scan convinced the doctor’s that the babies had to be delivered by caesarean section. At 1am on Feb 3, 2003, Lee arrived, weighing just 695g. His brother Kyle arrived soon after, weighing in at a slightly healthier 701g. I didn’t even get to see my babies as they were rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit, but a doctor brought photos of them to my hospital bed.
Next morning Ken took me to the nursery in a wheelchair where for the first time I could see my two tiny boys. Their skin was so thin and fragile I could see their blood vessels and their eyes were still fused shut. “They look perfect to me,” I cried to Ken. Tubes from their breathing equipment and monitors snaked around Lee and Kyle’s tiny bodies and we were told we’d just have to wait and hope they’d be strong enough to make it.
The only visitors we had were close family. No-one knew how to react – whether to buy the boys gifts and congratulate us, or to commiserate with us instead. I drew strength from the photos of the ward walls showing tiny bubs who’d been born at 24 weeks and had made it. I willed my boys on but, tragically, Kyle picked up an infection and at just 12 days old he died in my arms.
Returning to the nursery to see Kyle’s empty cot next to his brother’s was heartbreaking. “We’ve got to keep going for Lee,’ Ken urged. “We have a little boy in there and he needs us.” Lee unfortunately also picked up an infection and was put back on a ventilator. He had to have four blood transfusions and we had 17 anxious days fearing we’d lose him too. But he pulled through and, at the ripe old age of 40 days, we celebrated him reaching a kilo in weight.
Aged three months, Lee had laser treatment for retinopathy, a condition common in premature babies. The laser removed abnormal blood vessels and scar tissue that had grown over the retinas of Lee’s eyes. Just over two weeks after that, surgeons operated again to repair groin hernias. He got stronger as the days passed and, at two months Lee was moved out of the neonatal intensive care unit. After a further seven weeks we were finally able to take Lee back to Toowoomba Hospital on May 23 – his original due date. He was close to being discharged. Finally, a week later we took him home.
But his fight wasn’t over. Aged just five months, Lee had to have open heart surgery to repair his aortic valve. Amazingly he was well enough to come home just six days later, but he was still a tiny 4kg in weight. “He’s a though little cookie,” Ken and I both agreed. Lee is two now and though he’s still classed as suffering from chronic lung disease, he’s a healthy, happy little boy.
He still sees a paediatrician and a dietitian every six months and has had some speech therapy, but doctors told us that the body clock of a premmie child corrects itself by the time they’re five years old. Also Lee’s lung problems should clear up by the time he is seven. Developmentally, he’s as bright as any other child his age. The care he’s had since he was born has been excellent. Medics in the public health system worked miracles to save my baby.
Recently, I had an email from Austprem – a support group for families of premature babies- to say politicians and medics were discussing banning treatment form babies born before 25 weeks gestation.
“That’s outrageous,” I blurted to Ken. “Imagine if Lee had been left to die!” A flurry of angry messages were posted on the Austprem website by other mums. It’s horrible to think politicians are involved in deciding the fate of our children, I wrote, joining the debate.
When I look at my bright, beautiful boy I don’t think cost of care should be an issue. No-one has the right to put dollar signs on our babies.
As told to Julie Tyers.
Reproduced from Issue 29, 2005 of Take 5 magazine