**This is an edited version of an article from The Canberra Times in 2010. Nine years later Aidan revisited the NICU to thank the doctors and nurses who had cared for him and to learn about his time in the unit.**
ABOUT dawn on a March morning two parents headed out to the oval near the Canberra Hospital to say goodbye to their infant son. Aidan had spent the last eight days – his first eight days – on life support in the hospital’s intensive care unit.
On that Saturday morning doctors, fearing Aidan would never live a quality life, unplugged the tubes and wires that had kept his little body going. With a doctor and nurse waiting nearby, Aidan was held close by his parents who expected him to slip away within 10 or 15 minutes.
Only he didn’t. Aidan celebrated his first birthday yesterday, the birthday that no one expected to happen.
Since that morning on the oval, life has been on Aidan’s time. ‘‘It’s all up to him . . . how much he wanted to be here,’’ his father said.
Aidan was in fine form at the party, laughing, clapping and forming words like any normal one-year-old.
But he owes his good health to a loving family, dedicated medical treatment and more than a little good fortune. He was born with severe hypoxic-ischaemic encephalopathy, a condition that affects about one in 500 newborns.
Worldwide it causes almost a quarter of newborn deaths. But at the Canberra Hospital, a relatively new method of treatment is evening the odds.
Canberra Hospital’s neonatal department director Zsuzsoka Kecskes said, ‘‘We’ve had some great results with it, and Aidan’s probably our hero.
‘‘HIE essentially describes the effects of a lack of oxygen around the time of birth on the brain,’’ she said.
‘‘But the lack of oxygen doesn’t just affect the brain, it can affect the lungs, and the heart, and the liver, the kidneys and the guts and so on.
“All these organs usually recover from the damage, because they’ve got cells that can be replaced by other cells when they’re damaged, whereas the brain cells are not replaced by healthy brain cells.’’
For infants with severe ‘‘stage three’’ HIE, like Aidan, the prognosis is particularly dire. They die in three quarters of cases, and are left with lasting brain damage more than 90 per cent of the time.
Aidan was born under the watch of a midwife at the Canberra Hospital on March 6 last year.
He arrived on time and at a healthy weight, but as white as a sheet and not breathing. His dad recalled the midwife hitting an alarm button within seconds of the birth, summoning about 10 medical practitioners within minutes.
Three shots of adrenaline were administered, along with chest compression. When Aidan was taken to the intensive care unit his liver, kidneys, brain, lungs and heart were failing.
Fearing the worst, his parents had Aidan christened two days after his birth. They also cut a lock of his short red hair and took feet and hand prints – the hospital staff helped them throughout every delicate step.
But since being removed from life support that March morning Aidan has not only hung on, he’s thrived.
In the past year the infant boy has met every milestone, smiling, laughing and crawling. ‘‘Being told that this was more than likely never going to happen, I guess we’re really on the lookout for them,’’ his mum said.
At one, Aidan is extending his vocabulary with enthusiasm. ‘‘He says dad, mum, banana, and the last one was woof, when he sees a dog,’’ his mum said. ‘‘He has a really good understanding of what we’re saying.’’
Aidan’s parents are supremely grateful to the Canberra Hospital staff and encourage people to donate to the Newborn Intensive Care Foundation, which last year raised $240,000 for a second travelling humidicrib.
A staff member was by the boy’s side around the clock in those early days. ‘‘It’s really heartening to know that we could catch an hour or two of sleep and there was someone watching over him,’’ his dad said.
It’s a success story that has resonated with hospital staff.
‘‘It was worth the effort; it was worth the sleepless nights. It was worth being there for Aidan,’’ Dr Kecskes said.