By Alex Matthews
A first-time mum whose baby was born at just hours after the medical abortion limit has told how shedrew hope he would survive – from a toy rabbit.
Every week Kirsty Dunn, 31, would measure her son Casey, now 18 months, against a stuffed grey rabbit to measure his progress.
The toy became a ‘symbol of hope’ to show her family, who were banned from the ward, how he well he was coping after being born weighing the same as a small bottle of coke.
Casey was delivered by emergency C-section just five months into the pregnancy and began life without a heartbeat and not breathing.
Had he been born just hours earlier, doctors would not have fought to save his life as he would not have passed the 24-week term necessary.
But after Casey, weighing just one-and-a-half pounds, was stabilised and made it through his first few hours, medics managed to keep him alive on a ventilator and pea-sized servings of milk until he was well enough to go home.
Kirsty, from Coventry, said: “We bought the rabbit after his first couple of weeks in hospital when he was well enough to have things put next to him.
“It was a great way to show family members how tiny he was because they weren’t allowed to see him in person.
“But as we watched him grow next to his little toy it became a symbol of hope as he got bigger bit by bit.
“The doctors were desperately trying to get him to just over two pounds so he could go home, but it took a very long time as they could only feed him spoon sized amounts of milk.
“His stomach was too small to take anything else.
“The day we finally got Casey home, after 107 days, was such a relief. We were really excited about getting on with our lives.”
Kirsty discovered she was pregnant in August 2015 and, although her 20 week scan revealed she had a low-lying placenta, there were no indications she would have any problems.
However in January, as she and husband James, 36, were about to go shopping for a Moses basket for their unborn child, Kirsty had an awful shock.
She said: “I started bleeding so I was rushed to hospital. They found I was two centimetres dilated and told me I might have to spend the rest of my pregnancy in hospital.
“I was a bit worried about that but prepared to do whatever I had to do.”
On her third night in Coventry University Hospital Kirsty suffered a severe haemorrhage during the night.
She was rushed into the labour ward and was given a devastating prognosis about her baby.
Before long she was prepped for surgery, and had no idea whether Casey would be alive or dead when she came around.
Kirsty said: “It was terrifying. His heart rate had plummeted and they told me he only had a 10 per cent chance of survival.
“I was losing so much blood they also told me I might need a hysterectomy. The last thing I remember before the anaesthetic was asking the surgeon if I was going to die.
“I had no idea if I would wake up, and if I’d have my baby if I did.”
When she came around the next morning she was given the good news that Casey was alive and had been stabilised, and that surgeons had not needed to perform a hysterectomy.
It was not until the next day that she was allowed to see him and consider herself a new mum.
However, she admits that the first four days were not easy, as she was not allowed to touch Casey.
Kirsty said: “It took him four minutes to take his first gasp when he was born, and it was still really touch and go.
“It was only after the fourth day that I was allowed to touch him and change his happy, and I loved doing it.
“The days when he was too weak or too at risk of infection for me to stroke him were really hard. I would get so excited when I could.
“At first he was smaller than my hand. I could fit my whole finger in his tiny little fist as it closed around it.
“His eyes were fused shut and he was almost see-through. He looked like a baby chicken.
“Everything on the outside was fully formed. He had a miniature nose and even fingernails. It was just inside that his organs were underdeveloped, and it took a long time for him recover.”
In total, Casey spent 107 days in hospital before he was finally allowed home.
He remained on oxygen 24 hours a day, with Kirsty and James installing multiple tanks around their home.
At just four pounds nine ounces, baby Casey was still swamped even by the premature baby grows his parents and grandparents had bought for him.
Kirsty remembers the ‘delight’ of bringing him home, but also the ‘fear’ at having to look after him.
She said: “It was wonderful when he came home, but also scary. When you are in the hospital you have nurses there all day every day to look after him, and monitors to make sure he has enough oxygen.
“At home we didn’t have that, so it was a steep learning curve to make sure he was ok. But we managed it.”
Now weighing 21 pounds at 22 months, Casey is still small for his age but is thriving.
His lung condition has seen him hospitalised three times, but Kirsty says he will grow out of the problem by the time he starts school.
The family still keeps the rabbit to hand as one of his toys.
Kirsty said: “He is doing great. He has improved so much.
“He had laser eye surgery to save his sight, and so he wears glasses to see.
“He’s just learned to walk so is now climbing and jumping onto anything he can – so we have to keep a very close eye on him.
“He’s a typical toddler, and it’s more than we could ever have wished for.
“I honestly cannot thank the hospital staff enough. We still go and visit them on the neonatal ward and everyone is delighted to see how well Casey is doing.”
To say thank you to the Coventry University Hospital, she is putting together Christmas presents for other families on the neonatal ward.
She said: “I was showered with presents on Mother’s Day. It was a lovely touch. Just because you are in hospital does not mean these things should not be celebrated.”