Born a week after the 2011 floods, Riley made the news even before birth, when his heavily pregnant mum, Melissa, had to be driven off the family’s flooded property on a tractor by her 12-year-old son.
At just 13 weeks gestation, Riley was diagnosed with the potentially fatal condition Rhesus iso-immunisation. It is a condition Melissa faced during her pregnancies with all four children.
As part of the condition, Melissa’s body produced antibodies which sought to attack and destroy Riley’s blood. If left untreated, the condition can cause severe anaemia and death in unborn babies.
Each week throughout her pregnancy Melissa would make the 120 km round trip to Mater so Dr Gardener, Director of Mater’s Centre for Maternal Fetal Medicine, and his team could monitor Riley’s condition.
Melissa was given medication to help save Riley’s life—a treatment that left her violently ill.
“I had heart palpitations, rashes, a bad back ache, headaches and nausea. The more treatments I had, the sicker I got, until it got to the stage where Dr Gardener said they had to stop.”
At 34 weeks gestation, Riley, weighing 2360 grams, was delivered by Dr Gardener.
Like his siblings before him, Riley was rushed to Mater’s Neonatal Critical Care Unit (NCCU) after birth.
“He couldn’t breathe, so he was put on a machine to open his airways.”
“His antibody levels were dangerously high, which can cause brain damage and other severe side effects,” Melissa said.
“Because of this Riley couldn’t have a normal blood transfusion, so the team in NCCU had to remove Riley’s blood and replace it with donor blood. This is a very risky procedure that can cause brain damage or even death.”
The next 48 hours were touch and go for Riley, he had to have two blood exchange procedures during that time.
“His little system crashed and it was pretty traumatic to watch; we wondered if he could actually survive. His body swelled and started to look blue.”
While Riley fought for life, his siblings hoped for their brother to come home.
After eight days of more treatment in NCCU, Riley began to improve and Melissa and Rob were able to take their son home.
It took two further blood transfusions before Riley’s body began making its own red blood cells—but thankfully he has suffered no long-term side effects.
“Dr Gardener and his team gave people like us, people who have high-risk pregnancies, the opportunity to have a family. Without Mater, we would not have our five beautiful children.
“We’ve had our ups and downs but through it all we have received so much support.
“In the end, it’s been worth every moment,” Melissa said.
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