When a heavily-pregnant Nikki Harrison hadn’t felt her baby boy kick for a while she sensed something was wrong.
Following a sleepless night she went to Livingston’s St John’s Hospital early the next morning – a move that doctors said could well have saved her first baby’s life.
When Robbie Harrison was born that same day via a C-section due to his abnormal breathing he was immediately taken into intensive care, leaving new mum Nikki confused and unable to see the son she spent nine months carrying.
He had meconium aspiration syndrome, which occurs when a baby breathes in amniotic fluid containing meconium (the baby’s first stools) blocking small airways and preventing the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide after birth.
Although the condition often improves within a few days, severe meconium aspiration, and the respiratory problems it causes, may lead to death in a small number of babies.
Nikki, 29, and husband Andrew, 32, were nervously waiting for their precious first baby, weighing 7lb 10oz, to be wheeled in any minute.
Instead the Livingston couple were forced to wait six hours to see Robbie, who doctors said was “very sick” and needed to be transferred from Livingston’s St John’s Hospital to Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) in Glasgow so he could get access to an ECMO machine – a piece of equipment used for open heart surgery to help the poor youngster breath.
However it was unclear if the tot would survive the journey, leaving his parents in turmoil.
“We just didn’t know what to do,” said Nikki. “We were told to take plenty of pictures, suggesting that these might be our only photos we’ll get with him. It was bittersweet telling family and friends of his arrival because we didn’t know what was going to happen.
“He was coloured grey, heavily sedated and was clearly sick. I felt scared and I didn’t want to touch him. This wasn’t what I’d been dreaming of.
“Andrew went in the ambulance with Robbie and I was told I’d follow ‘if all went well’. I just burst into tears. You carry a baby and it is heartbreaking thinking they could die.”
The Queen Elizabeth University Hospital would be Robbie’s home for more than two weeks, with the family spending Christmas and New Year at his bedside.
He was heavily sedated, surrounded by tubes and on a machine that made him vibrate to help shift the meconium.
He was also on paralysis medication so he didn’t move the cannula in his neck – it was obvious he was not the healthy newborn his parents expected following a routine pregnancy.
Nikki, a primary school teacher, said: “It was incredibly frustrating because we had no real updates for a while. I was expressing milk every few hours and I would get upset regularly at how detached I felt from the ‘bonding experience’. I didn’t believe he was our baby.
“Every day he was in hospital felt like a week.
“But the staff were excellent, helping to cheer us up by styling Robbie’s hair and dressing him up on Christmas Day.
“They gave me a ‘Miniboo’ and Robbie got one too. I’d wear it on me and we would swap them daily so they smelled of me. It made me feel closer to him.”
After being taken off the ECMO machine on January 2, brave Robbie was firmly on the road to recovery with his parents beginning to feel upbeat.
In the coming days he would go on to open his eyes for the first time. Finally, Nikki and sheriff officer Andrew were able to hold their son.
His progress allowed him to be transferred to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary where he remained in intensive care until January 16 when he was put onto low-flow oxygen and moved into the Special Care Unit. It was here where staff were supportive in establishing breastfeeding before transporting him to St John’s Hospital.
“We felt selfish for wanting to give our son a hug,” said Nikki.
“When he came off the ventilation tube we were able to pick him up when we wanted without asking for permission. Things you take for granted but we just thought it was amazing.”
It was on January 25 when Nikki was told the news she’d been longing to hear, they could take their baby home. “I said ‘are you joking?’ to the nurse. I almost fell to the ground. I went straight to Robbie and cuddled him and cried. I phoned Andrew and he was in just as much disbelief. It was over.
“Robbie had X-rays and an MRI scan and they all came back normal, which we were completely shocked about considering what he had been through.”
The couple now want to thank the hard work and dedication of staff at the three hospitals for saving Robbie’s life and raise awareness of meconium aspiration syndrome.
They are raising cash by walking a mile a day for 33 days, for each day Robbie spent in hospital, culminating on Sunday when the public are invited to join almost 100 people to walk from Howden Park to St John’s Hospital at 1pm.
“I could never have imagined just how bad meconium aspiration syndrome could be,” said Nikki. “It was no doubt the most difficult time in our lives.
“We can never put into words how grateful we are, but we can hopefully give them something in return for all of their support. The staff have saved our son and we hope raising some money will help them care and support other families in the future.
“Every cuddle we get, every single breath that Robbie takes will never ever be taken for granted.”
To donate go to www.gofundme.com/33-mile-buggy-walk-for-robbie