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We couldn't be more thankful: Zara's story

March 15, 2023

Joely, 24 from Newport, Gwent, was already mum to her bright and bubbly three-year-old daughter Cassie.

So, when she found out she was expecting again, everything was wonderful. Cassie would become a big sister!

But as the due date drew closer, Joely was rushed into labour and her second child, Zara, was born 10 weeks prematurely due to pre-eclampsia. After spending a month in hospital, the last thing Joely thought was that, after going home, they would shortly be readmitted when little Zara began struggling to breathe.

Guest blogger: Joely

When Zara was born premature, she spent a long month in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in our local hospital, Grange University Hospital in Cwmbran. But at the end of that journey, she was discharged a small, but healthy baby.

Cassie and Zara and I headed home together to start our new life as a family-of-four.

But a month later to the day we brought her home, I started to notice she was off her feeds, lethargic and pale. Panicked, I called an ambulance, and she was rushed back to our local hospital where they became seriously concerned about her breathing and quickly, she started to look lifeless, struggling to catch her breath.

Suddenly, the doctors attached a small breathing device on her face called a CPAP, a loud machine to assist with breathing. But after a few hours, it was obvious she was making no progress.

She was so tired, and her tiny body was starting to give up, but still, she kept fighting.

Doctors decided she would be sedated, intubated and blue-lighted to the nearest specialist hospital – Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital in Cardiff.

When we arrived, I was told my 10-week-old baby was fighting for her life, that she would be closely monitored, and they would get to the root of the problem.

To our horror, it turned out our little Zara had pneumonia.

Her small body had been taken down so fast and it was likely due to her small size and not having many reserves that her body struggled to fight it off.

As I waited for the doctors to do what they could, I couldn’t help but worry.

I worried about my baby, and whether she was strong enough to fight off this illness.

I worried about my daughter Cassie, with relatives at home having already been away from me whilst we were in the NICU.

I worried about being away from my family and friends and being totally alone.

The nurses were eager to get me into the Ronald McDonald House as soon as possible. On my second night, they made it happen and as I walked into the building, I instantly felt comfortable and safe. It really made the whole situation feel less horrific. I couldn’t have been closer to my baby, but still had space to rest and recuperate. I could sleep, eat, and feel at ease in the House. I will be forever grateful.

But best of all, I was able to give Cassie somewhere to visit me, outside of a scary hospital.

It was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders.

Cassie was spoiled by the staff at Ronald McDonald House Cardiff. They gave her toys and gifts and made what was a horrible experience for both of us, that little bit lighter. They are truly lovely people, and I couldn’t be more thankful.

If I didn’t have the Ronald McDonald House, we would have been travelling half an hour from hospital to home every day, and with Zara being in the critical care ward, anything could have happened during that time. Things could have easily taken a turn for the worse. But thankfully, I was so close to her in a supportive environment with a real sense of ‘home’ having lovely spacious rooms and washing facilities, and plenty of help with food and drinks.

Thankfully, after four days in Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital, Zara was already much brighter and was able to be extubated and could breathe for herself. She wasn’t fully out of the woods, but things were looking up. We were transferred back to our local hospital where she spent another four days before being able to come home where Cassie was desperate for her little sister and cuddles.

As we left the Ronald McDonald House, I just remember how safe and supported I felt in such a horrible time and the amazing support I received, but also my daughter received.

If another family found themselves in my situation, I have some words of advice.

Stay strong and look for the positives always – our babies are stronger than we think.

Take all the help and support given.

Rest and recuperate.

Take every day as it comes.

But most importantly, breathe.

And if you are thinking of fundraising for this Charity, do it! They are so worth the support. It’s a truly wonderful charity and cause.

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