By Grainne McCool
Today marks the 5th World Prematurity Day. Even the Empire State building in New York will light purple today to mark the occasion.
This day is an opportunity for parent groups and organisations worldwide to join together and raise awareness of the seriousness of premature birth.
It is estimated that 15 million babies around the world are born too soon every year, and almost 1 million of those die due to complications of pre-term birth.
This is a day that is always very close to my heart. I have experienced premature birth and the memory never leaves me.
It was the early hours of April 24th 1991. My now husband and I were living in Shannon, Co. Clare at the time.
I had only recently discovered I was pregnant and still coming to terms that I was going to be a mother at 21. It wasn’t part of my life’s plan but it soon became such.
I was just six months pregnant on this morning when my waters broke.
Paul took me straight to the doctors and from there we were sent to St. Munchins Maternity Hospital in Limerick.
On arrival there and following a scan, the consultant told me that I was in early labour and the baby would be born very soon. I had no idea what lay ahead.
I was put on a drip and told that it would prolong the labour: “every hour the baby stays inside is beneficial to him/her,” the doctor kept saying.
I spent all day and all night in labour. I will always be grateful to Paul for never leaving my side. To say I was terrified is an understatement.
A priest was brought in and I had to give a boys name and girls name as the baby would be christened at birth: the chance of survival was slim.
Shortly after 6am on Thursday morning April 25th 1991 a baby boy was born. It was a long night.
I remember vividly the nurse setting him in my arms for all of 30 seconds. He was transparent.
I can still see every organ inside his body to this day. He was then whisked away to the neo-natal unit where he received the best care anyone could get.
I had to have some stitches and after this I was told to rest (I was a tad shattered and so I slept).
Paul left me and went along to support our son. We knew he didn’t have much time so Paul had the strength to stay with him and give enough love from us both until I was strong enough go see him.
I think it was about 11am when I awoke and Paul came with a wheelchair where he then pushed me to the unit to see our baby. He was in an incubator and tubes were everywhere.
The doctor came along and explained to us that he was definitely a fighter: he spat out the ventilator.
This was a very good sign. ‘If he survives the next 72 hours, he may have a chance’, the doctor said.
From that moment onwards our little boy was never without his Mum and Dad. We didn’t leave his side.
72 hours passed and the boy held on. He was defeating all the odds.
After just four weeks he was moved out of the incubator and into a cot. He weighed just 4lb’s. His outlook was looking good.
After just 8 weeks we were told we could take our little boy home. He weighed just 5lb’s.
The doctor told us that they never discharge premature babies prior to their due date. Our little man came home one month before he was due.
On discharge that day I always remember the consultant telling us that we had a little fighter on our hands and that he was a special little man.
He also told us: “your little boy will always be small for his age and have a very low IQ.”
That didn’t worry us. He was alive and well and he was coming home.
Now 24 years later, that same ‘little’ boy is now 6 foot tall and one of the most intelligent young men I know.
He defeated all the odds and stands tall today.
We were lucky. Our boy made it through and yet so many others are not so lucky.
I will always be grateful to everyone at St. Munchins Maternity Hopsital in Limerick for their outstanding care at that time.
So today, on World Prematurity Day 2015, please join with me and be aware of all those babies born too early.