Three year old Oliver is a cheeky and inquisitive little boy. Looking at him now, it's hard to believe he’s had to fight so hard just to stay alive.
Oliver’s parents Rebecca and Dan were at a routine 21 week scan when doctors noticed that the fluid surrounding their baby was disappearing.
“The doctors had no idea what caused it, but there was a leak in the membrane of the amniotic sac and it appeared to be slowly emptying.”
Fortnightly scans were needed to closely monitor the progress of the couple’s baby. Six weeks later, at 27 weeks gestation, doctors discovered the baby’s lungs had started to collapse.
“It was so frightening,” Rebecca said.
“We didn’t know whether he was going to be born alive—we just had to wait and see. That was the hardest part.”
Then, at 30 weeks gestation, Rebecca unexpectedly went into labour and was admitted to Mater Mothers’ Hospital. Although she didn’t know it at the time, her baby had only a 20 per cent chance of survival.
“I actually delivered Oliver naturally because he wasn’t in distress at the time and his heart rate was fine,” she said.
Moments after birth, and weighing a tiny 1.4 kilos, Oliver began to have difficulty breathing and was handed to Mater’s neonatologist Dr Luke Jardine and his team, who began trying to resuscitate him.
“When he was born I remember them holding him up before taking him away behind a screen to be resuscitated. My husband Dan went over to look at Oliver and came back in tears,” Rebecca said.
Dr Jardine said, at that moment, Oliver’s odds of survival were slim, but he was determined to save his life.
“His tiny lungs really weren’t in good shape. It took a lot of work for us to get his lungs working again,” Dr Jardine explains.
“In this situation, every single second counts. We cleared his airway, put a breathing tube in, connected him to a ventilator and then worked to get him into the Mater’s Neonatal Critical Care Unit (NCCU) as quickly as possible.”
“Getting the little things right at the start for the babies who are critically ill makes a very big difference in the long term.”
Within hours, Rebecca and Dan were told their baby had taken a turn for the worse.
“It was so scary—his lungs had a hole in them and were leaking air,” Rebecca explained.
“We went straight to the NCCU and saw the team busy working on him. His body was blue when we got down there. The doctors had put chest drains inside him to drain all of the fluid out.
“I just kept thinking ‘is he going to live, or are we going to lose our little boy?’ We so desperately wanted him—we’d been trying to have a child for more than four years.”
Fortunately, Dr Jardine and his team stabilised Oliver’s breathing and over the next two weeks his condition began to improve.
“We all just took it day by day,” Rebecca said.
“The doctors and nurses at Mater were absolutely fantastic. If it hadn’t been for them, Oliver probably wouldn’t have survived. If we were in a country town, I don’t think we’d have him today.”
“Dr Jardine constantly updated us on what was happening with Oliver; we were always very well informed of how everything was going. We couldn’t have asked for a better place to be.”
After spending two months in Mater’s Neonatal Critical Care Unit, Rebecca and Dan were able to take their baby boy home.
Oliver has suffered no long-term complications and is now a happy and healthy toddler who loves playing with his baby sister, Lily May.
Rebecca said she would be forever grateful to the staff at Mater for saving her son’s life.
“You just don’t realise how many babies are actually there in the NCCU and how hard everyone is working to keep them alive. It’s like a completely different world.”
For Dr Jardine, seeing babies like Oliver survive is what makes his job so worthwhile.
“When I see parents go through the nightmare of having their baby cared for in intensive care, and then I see them again later on, going home with a healthy, happy child like Oliver—it reminds me why I do this job. It’s just so rewarding.”
But Oliver was one of the lucky ones.
It’s only with your help and support of Mater’s world-leading neonatal resuscitation research efforts, that together, we can continue to ensure more babies like Oliver survive.