They say the best gifts come in small packages.
So, when tiny baby Lewis Hall finally got home after almost two months in Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital, it was the best Christmas present his parents could have wished for.
The premature tot was born in August - 11 weeks early - weighing less than a bag of sugar.
He spent eight days in intensive care, two days in high dependency and six weeks on the Royal’s special care unit before he was allowed home to Dundonald with mother Alana and father Darryl.
Mrs Hall, who feared she could never have children because of a rare heart condition, said: “He is our little miracle.”
Baby Lewis, who was not due until November, weighed in at just two pounds and half an ounce and measured only 15 inches long when he was delivered by emergency cesaerian section on August 26.
He was able to fit in the palm of his parents’ hands.
Mrs Hall added: “It has been a big emotional journey.
“There is nothing like walking out of the hospital doors with your own baby and thinking, ‘we’ve done it, we’ve got him well enough to come home’.
“It is amazing to be home for Christmas.”
Although they had been warned of the potential for an early arrival when Mrs Hall contracted chicken pox and pneumonia at 27 weeks’ pregnant, doctors became increasingly concerned.
She said: “I was admitted to hospital for a week and then got home for a week but when I went for another check-up the doctor wouldn’t allow me to leave.
“The plan was to have scans every day to monitor the baby but things dipped very quickly and I had to have an emergency c-section.
“It all happened so quickly, I didn’t really have time to think about things - which is probably good.
“Lewis was ventilated for the first six hours and was then on supported oxygen for eight days. When he came off that, he went onto the nasal oxygen for 24 hours but he wouldn’t keep it in.
“He then moved to the high dependency for two days and special care for six weeks.”
For most of his hospital stint, Lewis was being fed through a tube.
“He had to learn how to suck and had to be off the feeding tube and onto bottles before he could come home,” she added.
“In that first week you do not know whether you will see the end of the ICU. But, you just focus on getting out of there and think, I just need to get my baby home.”
Heartbreakingly, the Halls also watched as other children born at the same time as Lewis tragically lost their battle for survival.
She said: “In one week we lost three babies. It was really frightening and hard because, you had got to know them, so it was like losing a friend.
“And, you also felt guilty.”
Thankfully now thriving, the Halls are planning a relaxing Christmas surrounded by close friends and relatives.
Lewis is expected to be spoiled.
“He loves music and sound and that’s from the neo-natal unit,” said Mrs Hall.
“It was never quiet in there because of all the monitors, machines and alarms going off. When it is quiet, Lewis gets a bit wary so, we’ve got him a play gym with a piano which he can kick with his feet.
“He’s also getting lots of teddies and clothes.
“He is a real blessing because, it’s something we thought was never going to happen. Some days we wake up and say ‘is this real’ - but then it does feel real when he’s crying at 4am in the morning.”
Every day in Northern Ireland seven babies are born too soon. Some arrive as early as 24 weeks and weighing as little as one pound.
The charity TinyLife has volunteers in the region’s seven neonatal units to offer practical and emotional support to the parents of premature and sick babies through the family and support service.
TinyLife’s hospital to home volunteer visitation service provides breast pumps, tiny gyms, baby massage and sensory sessions as well as family activities and support groups.
Mrs Hall added: “Tiny Life were amazing. They were the people who were there from Lewis was a day old. I don’t know what I would have done without them.”
She has also paid tribute to the medical staff at the RVH.
Anyone wishing to donate to TinyLife should log on to www.justgiving.co.uk/TinyLife.