HER tiny hand, delicately grasping onto her mother’s finger, was the striking image that melted the hearts of readers.
Born at just 24 weeks, and weighing little more than half a bag of sugar, Emily Cressey was facing a battle for survival that dwarfed her stature.
Nine months later, as the family gears up for the Christmas they could only dream would come, she continues to impress doctors with her progress, showing little sign her precious life once hung in the balance.
Little Emily is reaching milestones to make any parent proud – like being able to roll over and moving on to solid foods, ready for her first Christmas dinner.
Mum Claire, who is still in awe of her youngest daughter’s progress, remembers willing Emily to make it to the magical day, during long chats, day and night, by her hospital bedside.
“We spent so many hours telling her about Christmas,” says mother-of-four Claire.
“It was in hope, talking through the incubator glass, telling her she had to keep going and fight because she didn’t want to miss Christmas.
“I remember telling her about Christmas dinner and all the promises we made to her – things like we’d put the tree up early – and we’ve carried it all through.
“Now Christmas is here, we’re just going to spend it together as a family at home. It’s such a special time anyway in the house with the other girls, but to have all four together . . . The thought of having Emily at Christmas when I think back just a few months ago, it was a dream but now it’s a reality.”
Speaking from their home in the Borders, Claire says it “feels like yesterday” when she was rushed to the Simpson maternity unit at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, delivering Emily 16 weeks early. A medical team from the Capital transported Claire by ambulance to ensure experts were on hand to give Emily the vital help necessary to ensure her survival.
They arrived at the hospital with minutes to spare before Claire gave birth and Emily was whisked away to the neonatal unit and placed in an incubator.
She fought to stay alive, first on a ventilator, then by using a continuous positive airway pressure machine, necessary to help her lungs develop until they could function on their own.
Each week the family, comprising of dad Alan Coultas, and siblings Caitlin, nine, Millie, five, and Brooke, who turns two on New Year’s Day, marked the milestone with a candlelit cake, knowing her life was in the balance.
When she was a bit stronger, the “little miracle” was later transferred to Borders General Hospital before being allowed home at 14 weeks – incredibly still a week before her due date.
Claire, 34, says the newest addition to the family instantly took to being at home with her sisters and is “just Emily” to her siblings, now her health is stable.
She now goes for a routine health check at the local doctor’s surgery every three months.
A heart murmur she was born with is growing smaller by the day and a hernia on her tummy button has also healed, meaning there was no need to operate.
Claire said: “It’s quite chaotic having four girls in the house but she’s such a happy, contented little girl. She’s by far the easiest of all four of them. I don’t know if it’s because of how she started life, because we couldn’t touch her for a long time and is used to being left, that she doesn’t seek attention like other babies.
“Emily’s still quite small and we have to be realistic. She was born just over halfway through a pregnancy so she’s still only 12lb 4oz at nine months which is quite dinky.
“Development is slow but we don’t worry about anything as she is here and that’s all that matters.
“With Emily, anything is possible.”
Scores of readers sent messages of support as the News documented everything from her first cuddle with mum and dad, to her long-awaited trip home.
While Emily continues to go from strength to strength, the emotional toll on the family will only fade with time.
Claire, who documented events on the Emily’s Journey Facebook page, says looking back at the posts makes her realise what they have been through. Other mums of premature babies regularly visit the site to share stories or ask for advice and support.
“I often read it back and it reduces me to tears. It’s like I’m reading someone else’s journey. We are just so thrilled to have her home. It’s all down to the wonderful staff who helped her and us through it.
“All we can say is thank you so much because Emily would not be here this Christmas if it wasn’t for them.
“I owe Emily’s life to them, they are miracle workers.”