TINY little bundles of see-through skin and the most fragile bones, so impossibly small and frail it seems beyond belief that they might ever survive.
But, baby, just look at them now.
These amazing tots arrived in the world far too soon and far too small – weighing less than a typical bag of sugar. And yet they proved themselves giants when it comes to fighting for their lives.
Part of the extremely exclusive “super premmies club”, they are among the smallest of all, arriving in a flurry weeks before their due date – even before the legal abortion limit of 24 weeks – then defying the odds not only to survive, but to thrive.
Last week, we told how tiny Emily Cressey’s mum, Claire, was 24 weeks and five days pregnant when her daughter made her sudden and unscheduled early appearance at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, weighing just 1lb 3oz. She is so small, Claire and partner Alan Coultas, from Coldstream, have not even been allowed to hold her at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.
She celebrates her one month birthday today and continues to make good progress.
And as our amazing super premmies prove, miracles can and really do happen.
Born at 24 weeks, 1lb 10oz
Little Cameron Scobie could barely be closer to his big sister, Patricia Louise. In fact, he was so desperate to meet her that he arrived at just 24 weeks – making him only eight months younger than his big sis.
“I’d had Patricia Louise in the January and Cameron came along in the September,” says mum Gillian. “Plus I had my 40th birthday that year, too, so it was very busy few months.”
She had been preparing for his arrival in December when nature took its unexpected course. “I just started to bleed one morning. I went to the Royal Infirmary and was told that I’d give birth that weekend.”
Gillian was left reeling – especially as her daughter was still so young. “I couldn’t believe it,” she remembers. “It was such a shock. As it turned out, I needed to have a Caesarean section. When I woke up, I had this 1lb 10oz baby with a 20 per cent chance of survival. It was devastating.”
Gillian’s hospital bed was wheeled to the special baby care unit as soon as she came around so she could meet her son. There was little to prepare her for how tiny and fragile he was – barely the size of her hand. Incredibly, Cameron battled through – even though doctors warned that as well as his lungs being under- developed, he also showed signs of a slight heart murmur.
“He was six-and-a-half months in intensive care,” recalls Gillian, 43, who works as a manager with the Royal Bank of Scotland. “You just have to cope with it and go with the flow, but it was hard.”
Even once he was home, Cameron still needed oxygen and his feeding was done through a tube. And when he caught parainfluenza – a virus that can cause bronchitis, croup and even pneumonia – he needed to return to hospital for specialist treatment.
There, doctors realised what they thought was a minor heart murmur was actually far more serious, and he needed cardiac surgery to repair a faulty heart valve. Now, while Cameron is still catching up with other boys his age when it comes to speech, feeding and climbing stairs, he is thriving.
“He couldn’t eat until a few months ago and still had a feeding tube, but he’s doing well now. And his speech is coming along,” adds Gillian, of Fairmilehead. “He’s still trying to catch up with some things but hopefully that will come.
“It’s incredible to think that Patricia Louise will be starting school this August and Cameron will start nursery and that there’s eight months between them. I can’t praise the hospital staff enough – they were amazing and so is he.”
Born at 22 weeks and five days, 1lb 1oz
Tiny baby Clare Squires didn’t just defy the odds once, she beat them several times over. Born at just 22 weeks and five days and weighing only 1lb 1oz, she had already amazed medics by simply surviving to that stage.
“There were so many scares,” remembers mum Donna, a 23-year-old mum-of-two at the time. “I had medical problems and was in an antenatal ward.
“There were massive scares during my pregnancy and it looked likely that I’d have a natural termination.”
Then on New Year’s Day, Donna went into labour. “Clare was in a breech position, so there was even more drama.
“I thought there was no chance. Eventually I heard her cry and thought that was a sound that would haunt me forever – I was sure she would not live.
“I was on my own – I’d just split with her father – and had two children at home. I needed a blood transfusion and didn’t see her for 20 hours. When I did they said there was just a one in 100 chance of her surviving. She was very poorly.”
Clare was kept on a ventilator for 16 weeks. Donna remembers her skin being so fine it was transparent, and being too fragile for the medics to attempt dressing her, so they wrapped her in bubble wrap to keep her warm.
“Her fingers were like strands of spaghetti. We could slide her whole arm and shoulder through a wedding ring. Her real due date was June 6. I ended up taking her home a month before that on May 5,” she recalls.
Even then there were dramas. “She stopped breathing at home and we had to resuscitate her. She then got her own portable oxygen that I carried in a bag under her pram.
“She still only weighed 14lbs on her first birthday.”
Clare’s lungs were so underdeveloped that she was prone to infections. She was diagnosed as having bronchopulmonary dysplasia – common among premature babies. “Part of her lung had to be removed 12 years ago. She had constant infections and every one was making her more and more ill. Eventually she had to have part of her lung taken away.”
Yet despite her childhood challenges, Clare is now a 25-year-old university student, studying for a masters degree.
“She is amazing, a medical miracle,” says Donna, of Broomhouse. “To have been born so early 25 years ago and got through what she did was incredible. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen to everyone. You just have to go day by day and keep hoping.”
Born at 23 weeks, 1lb 7oz
Experienced mum-of-three Emma Smith had no reason to suspect anything would possibly go wrong when she fell pregnant a fourth time. After all, her other pregnancies had resulted in big, healthy babies.
“My babies were always big and I’d had Caesarean sections with them all,” she recalls. “I’d just booked in for a planned C-section the week before my due date when my waters broke at home.
“It turned out that I had a urine infection, I was dilating and there was nothing much the medical staff could do to stop it.”
Emma was warned her baby might arrive in hours or weeks – she’d need complete bed rest until the inevitable occurred. As it turned out, she was just three days in hospital and 23 weeks into her pregnancy, when baby Anya arrived.
“We were told there was just a 14 per cent of her surviving,” recalls Emma, 34, who lives with husband William, 35, in Tranent. “She was put straight into a little plastic bag and placed on a ventilator.”
Emma remembers her tiny bird-like arms and her almost transparent skin. “She was bright red – her skin was see-through, it was like looking at red jelly. She didn’t cry until eventually she came off the ventilator and then she just made the sound like a little bird cheeping.”
Anya was just 48 hours old when medics said she had suffered a brain haemorrhage – possibly leaving her with brain damage.
“It turned out that it was a grade four haemorrhage and that it was likely she would be mentally and physically disabled,” adds Emma. “But we never gave up hope.”
Tiny fighter Anya needed eight blood transfusions and then laser eye surgery – a complication for premature babies who are then placed on oxygen to help them survive can be eye problems.
She remained in hospital for 136 days, while Emma and William juggled visiting her with looking after their other children, Kai, 11, Fallon, eight, and Lennox, six.
“All of this saved her life and gave her a fighting chance,” adds Emma. “She’s now a happy, healthy three-year-old.”
Number of arrivals before 40 weeks on the rise
Around one in every 13 babies is born prematurely – classed as before they reach 38 weeks gestation. Approximately 4000 premature babies are born every year in Scotland.
Some are simply too small, frail and ill to survive. However, modern techniques and medical advances mean many have a far better chance of survival now than ever before.
While many premature babies go on to have no health issues, some may have complicated health needs.
Babies born more than three weeks before the usual 40-week term are almost 50 per cent more likely to develop asthma.
They can be at risk of brain haemorrhage and infections, while the oxygen they are given can sometimes affect their eyesight.
Some struggle to reach typical childhood milestones, but many eventually catch up with – and even surpass – their peers.
The number of premature babies being born each year is rising, possibly due to women waiting until they are older before they give birth and a rising birth rate.