Miracle baby born at 22 weeks: Youngest premature baby to ever be discharged from Royal Preston Hospital celebrates first birthday

When Jade Haigh's waters started breaking just 21 weeks into her pregnancy last year, midwives told her there was a slim chance her baby would survive.

Friday, 25th June 2021, 2:27 pm

Now, a year on and against all odds, little Stella is today celebrating her first birthday.

The brave little girl was the youngest premature baby to ever be discharged from Royal Preston Hospital, born at just 22 weeks and three days- 18 weeks before Jade’s due date and weighing just 480g, less than a small bag of sugar.

Stella spent five months being cared for round the clock in the hospital before she was finally able to come home with her parents Jade and Stuart, of Bamber Bridge.

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Parents Jade and Stuart enjoy life with baby Stella at home following months of treatment
Parents Jade and Stuart enjoy life with baby Stella at home following months of treatment

Jade recalls how last June, she was handed the difficult news that if her baby was to be born early at 21 weeks, midwives would be unable to intervene due to the complications in caring for a baby born so prematurely.

But, after spending a few nights in the delivery ward at Royal Preston Hospital, Jade remained pregnant until 22 weeks - a new milestone that gives babies a chance of survival.

Mum Jade, 33, said: “After going to my (20 week) scan, we thought everything was fine but a week later I started leaking water.

“We thought I was going to deliver her that week but was told there was nothing the nurses could do to help her survive because of the complications involved.

The parents and little Stella fought against all odds

“When they told me they would be able to offer treatments if she was born at 22 weeks, we knew that is what we wanted. I am an optimistic person and always stay positive and try and see the best in all situations and had faith that she would make it.

“It gave me hope seeing how experienced and knowledgeable the neonatal staff were. They were honest with me about the chances of survival being minimal and it all depending on how she responds to the treatment.”

From the moment she was admitted, Jade says the nurses working at the neonatal unit supported her throughout the birth and the difficult few months that were to follow, as her baby was kept breathing in an incubator.

New mum Jade wasn’t even able to hold her own baby until an agonising week after she was born when Stella was moved to a new incubator as her breathing and brain function continued to be monitored.

Baby Stella was born more than four months premature

Jade said: “Once I gave birth they took her straight to the neonatal unit where she was incubated and the machine was breathing for her. Doctors had to complete ultrasounds on her brain and scan her heart.

“I couldn’t even see her until five hours after she was born. It was really tough for us, but the realism came into place that she had been born more than four months early and had to be looked after or she wouldn’t have made it.

“Nothing had really developed yet, she was so small and her skin was transparent. She was extremely fragile and we knew that she needed to be in those surroundings for her to grow and become healthy.”

For the next five months, Jade and partner Stuart would spend most of their days and nights at the hospital, waiting for the special day that their baby would be well enough to come home.

Mum Jade finally got to hold baby Stella two weeks after giving birth

And on November 25 last year, little Stella was able to finally go home, meet her family and spend her first night with her parents.

It was a moment that mum Jade described as “a truly amazing experience.”

She added: “When she got to come home it was daunting for us but amazing at the same time. With it being winter, we were extra cautious about keeping her safe from flu and other viruses because she was still relying on oxygen.

“It had been so hard to not have much interaction with her, so to be able to finally bring her home was a truly amazing experience. We had to be so careful but it was such a great feeling to finally let our families meet her and be able to spend time with her and watch her grow and develop into the person that she is.

“We are still getting a lot of help from neonatal nurses who visit as well as physiotherapists and dieticians to make sure she is developing properly.

“It just shows how medically advanced we are that she is here with us now and the work of the neonatal staff has been absolutely amazing.”

Stella was born at just 22 weeks and spent 5 months in an incubator

Neonatal consultant Dr Richa Gupta, who cared for Stella during her time at the neonatal unit, said: “Stella is a real little star. She was fragile, delicate and vulnerable.

"We had to adapt our approach to handling her less often, more carefully and adjusting everything we did to support her, whilst her own body systems gradually grew stronger and learnt to function.

“We were all learning about how to care for her as we went along, as there are so few babies of 22 weeks that have been born and admitted to NICUs in the UK. Our blood result parameters and charts do not yet include 22 weeks, so we had to adjust everything to be extra cautious.

“ We had to be extra gentle, especially with her skin. She was our first baby to have silk sheets.

“Everything we did was geared towards keeping her safe and minimising harm, whilst optimising her growth and development - as we do for all preterm babies, but even more so for her.

“It was not an entirely smooth journey; there were many anxious days for the parents, but also lots of joyful milestones to be enjoyed. Mum Jade was at Stella’s side every single day, caring for her alongside the clinical team. That integral care was essential, especially through the lockdown.

“All of the NICU team feel privileged to be part of Stella’s incredible start to life, and we wish her a wonderful and happy first birthday.”

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Baby Stella turns one-year-old today