‘You must take it one day at a time’

Ellie picture in the NICU just after she was born
Ellie picture in the NICU just after she was born

A Lurgan mum is urging everyone to show their support to Tiny Life’s PREMvember campaign this month.

Nicola McStea gave birth to her daughter Ellie at 26 weeks, and she weighed just 1lb 14oz. With a catalogue of health issues, it was touch and go for little Ellie, and as mum Nicola sat beside her incubator, the support she received from Tiny Life was invaluable.

Ellie is now four and full of lfe

Ellie is now four and full of lfe

“I was extremely scared for Ellie,” admitted Nicola. “I didn’t know at that point that babies born at 26 weeks actually survive. I assumed the worst.

“She was given a 60/40 chance of survival and was sicker than what would be expected for a 26 weeker.

“The day after she was born she was transferred from Craigavon Area Hospital to the neonatal intensive care unit in the Royal Victoria Hospital.

“She was there for five weeks before being transferred back to Craigavon Area Hospital and she was in there for a further 10 weeks.

TinyLife CEO, Alison McNulty with baby Ell and Elave CEO, Joanna Gardiner, holding Scarlett launching Premvember

TinyLife CEO, Alison McNulty with baby Ell and Elave CEO, Joanna Gardiner, holding Scarlett launching Premvember

“She had lots of complications- low blood pressure, chronic lung disease, sepsis, several other infections, retinopathy of prematurity, jaundice, numerous blood transfusions, and that’s only what I can think of off the top of my head.”

When Ellie was first born at Craigavon Area Hospital, Nicola was visited by TinyLife and offered support during the very difficult time.

“I was visited by Janice from TinyLife on the maternity ward in Craigavon Area Hospital the morning after I gave birth to my daughter,” said Nicola.

“TinyLife loaned me a breast pump, which is invaluable for expressing milk for Ellie. Being able to borrow a breast pump was the most useful support for me. I was told that my milk could potentially save Ellie’s life and expressed for 14 weeks.

“Talking to parents of other premature babies in hospital was a great help emotionally. I only attended the TinyLife group once as I returned to work three months after Ellie came home from hospital. People don’t realise that your maternity leave starts the minute you give birth to a premature baby, and mothers spend most of their maternity leave sitting in a hospital.

“The NICU is a scary place. You have to take one day at a time.”

Ellie turns four this month and she is a very happy little girl. However, her premature birth did leave her with some health complications, which are carefully monitored.

“She is still reviewed for her hearing and eyesight,” explained Nicola. “She also attends physiotherapy to help with her balance and coordination, and she is still under review by her consultant paediatrician. Being born prematurely can cause life long difficulties, which people do not expect.”

Following the birth of Ellie four years ago and the support she received from TinyLife, Nicola has been a strong supporter of the charity every since,

“TinyLife support families in so many ways,” she said. “I will never forget the help they gave me in very difficult circumstances. I now regularly donate to the charity so that they can continue to support parents like me.”

Nicola is also encouraging people to support the charity’s latest campaign PREMvember - Tea for Tots which will once again run throughout the whole month of November.

This year it’s a hat trick, as not only does it mark World Prematurity Day on November 17, World Prematurity Day marks 10 years, while TinyLife celebrates 30 years.

TinyLife has grown over the years to become a small but personable charity that keeps services local, while investing in research that ultimately helps premature babies around the world.

PREMvember helps highlight the charity’s plight to help the six babies born prematurely per day in Northern Ireland.

Head of communications and fundraising, Val Cromie explained: “By organising a fundraising event, hosts are assured that every penny raised goes to Northern Ireland’s premature babies.

“Over 2000 babies per year are born too soon, too small or too sick in Northern Ireland. Some arrive as early as 24 weeks, weighing as little as 1lb/454 grams, the same weight as half a bag of sugar. As this understandably very stressful time for parents, TinyLife is there to provide practical advice, emotional support and to give a helping hand to families who have a baby in a neonatal intensive care unit, with their network of Family Support professionals in every neonatal unit across Northern Ireland, ensuring parents receive optimum support in hospital, at 
home and within the community.”

Danielle Barnes, whose daughter Scarlett was born prematurely at 28 weeks, has fond memories of TinyLife Family Support member, Helen Marks, commenting: “When Scarlett was born, both the TinyLife Family Support team were there to help, visiting my husband and I in hospital. Helen and her colleague Jenny offered a friendly face at such a scary time. TinyLife also supplied a breast pump, which really helped me and was a weight off my mind, as I was acutely aware of the importance of breast feeding. We attended baby massage courses and family support groups which we found invaluable as an amazing way to mix with other mums in similar situations.” Fundraising packs are available, free by registering at buytickets.at/tinylife or emailing gill@tinylife.org.uk.