With thanks to journalist Kimberley Le Lievre
At 25 weeks pregnant, Yvonne Doreski woke up feeling great. After severe morning sickness during her first trimester, she was happy to have that behind her. But just a few hours later, that feeling had changed. Mrs Doreski had pain and pelvic pressure but initially “didn’t think anything of it”.
It was Boxing Day 2016 so not much was open, but Mrs Doreski decided to visit the hospital just in case. Her symptoms were initially misdiagnosed and then things took a turn for the worse.Mrs Doreski ended up in hospital, on complete bed rest, with her husband Johnny by her side. “You think pre-term labor happens and ‘it won’t happen to me’, but it’s more common than you think,” she said.
Mrs Doreski believes mothers-to-be should know the risks and what to look out for so they can be prepared to face the situation if it arises.”That’s why we’re sharing our story, because it’s much more common than you know.”
Mrs Doreski spent two days in hospital as she was fed steroids and magnesium, to help the baby’s lungs and brain develop. But at 25 weeks and two days, Angelina was born. Tiny, but alive. She weighed just 690 grams and measured 31cm. The average Australian birth weight is 3400 grams and length is 51cm.
Angelina spent the first four months of her life in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at the Canberra Hospital.
Next month, the family will celebrate the date they were able to bring her home – more than four months after her birth. Mrs Doreski said after she gave birth, before she was able to see her baby girl, the NICU team “packed her up and took her” to the unit.
A few hours later Mrs Doreski was able to get up to see her baby. “I didn’t know what to expect really, and when I walked through the NICU doors she was transparent, she was incubated, she was in a humidicrib. It was really different, you don’t think that’s how you’re going to meet your child for the first time,” she said. But on May 6, 2017 when they walked out of the hospital to take Angelina home, she said it was the “best feeling”.
The neonatal intensive care unit staff look after critically ill newborns, including those born prematurely. For the past three years, the Unit has cared for on average 580 babies each year born to parents from Canberra and surrounds.Mrs Doreski describes the NICU team as “angels” who kept her baby alive.
“I get teary when I speak of them. They are amazing, and you don’t know it that well until you’re there. They’re such beautiful people, they go above and beyond what they’re supposed to do.”
Angelina celebrated one year corrected on April 11 – Mrs Doreski’s due date – and they mark her milestones from that date. While the family isn’t sure what the future holds, at the moment Angelina is petite, but meeting most of the milestones.
“Feeding has been our biggest challenge but it’s so far so good with her development,” Mrs Doreski said. “She’s small but she is unstoppable.”
Angelina’s chance of survival after being born at 25 weeks was about 50 to 70 per cent. Royal Australasian College of Physicians professor Paul Colditz said that statistic had increased significantly from a decade ago. “It’s well over 50 per cent of babies at 25 weeks that will survive,” Professor Colditz said. “By 27 weeks, you’re up over 90 per cent survival.” He said babies born before 23 weeks generally don’t survive, and if that happened it would be “extremely uncommon”. “The age at which babies can be supported and survive has certainly gone down. Ten to 15 years ago 25 weeks was the cut off,” Professor Colditz said.
The most recent advancement in the care of pre-term babies is the increasing stability of the environment they’re born into, hence the long stay in hospital for Angelina. The babies are kept in quiet, low-light conditions to help them develop.
Professor Colditz said there was also evidence to suggest that fewer premature babies were living with severe disability.
He said there were a few reasons for that, including the use of steroids and magnesium for development of the lungs and brain, and equally as important was the quiet and low-light environments that provided stability for the early development.
The Canberra Hospital NICU is supported by the Newborn Intensive Care Foundation.