How our little miracle baby Ebony fought for life after being one of smallest born, at 18oz
Tiny Ebony Stinson fought with all her might to survive her premature birth and miniscule weight. Now she’s home from hospital and piling on the pounds. Wendy Roberts reports....
SHE measured just 10in long and weighed 18oz. Through the incubator glass, Ebony Stinson gripped her tiny teddy and huddled for warmth under a little pink blanket.
Attached to life-saving machines, the premature baby started her gruelling fight for life.
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"We've saved Ebony's Little Ted," said her mum, Heidi Livesey. "And it's the tiniest, tiniest thing in the world.
"She held it so tightly in her hand, like she was clinging to life. We'll always cherish it. And when she's older, we'll give it to her to treasure. It's only about one inch long."
Ebony's dad, 36-year-old Craig Stinson, believes his daughter is a miracle. She is now a healthy, 9lb baby and is finally being cared for at home.
"We call her our one-pounder," said the electrical engineer. "Her official weight was recorded as 511 grams [18oz] but she was wearing a hat and had wires attached to life-saving equipment. We think her actual weight would have been about one pound. She was the smallest thing in the world.
"When I looked at her in the incubator, I could hardly believe what I was seeing. She was small – but she was perfect."
Craig and Heidi, 33, who worked for East Midland Ambulance Service, are pretty sure their daughter is the smallest baby to be born at the Royal Derby Hospital.
During Ebony's 119-day stay, they desperately tried to find out. They also launched a huge fund-raising campaign for the Friends of the Baby Unit and received a letter from St James's Palace sending warm wishes from Prince William, Kate Middleton and Prince Harry.
"We asked lots of the medical staff if they had ever looked after a baby so tiny and the answer was always no," said Craig.
Ebony was born 14 weeks early after Heidi developed a pregnancy-related condition called pre-eclampsia – which can cause dangerously high blood pressure.
She was delivered by emergency caesarean on February 4, and rushed to neo-natal intensive care.
Heidi was also seriously ill. Her vital organs had started to fail and she needed immediate treatment.
"I was warned that Heidi and Ebony were both in a serious condition," said Craig. "I thought I might lose them. I didn't know what to do. I wanted to stay with Heidi but she kept telling me to go and see Ebony.
"Heidi was so brave, she was amazing. All she could think about was the baby and yet she was seriously ill."
Ebony was immediately attached to a ventilator and kept warm in what looked like a plastic bag. Despite receiving steroids while she was still in the womb, her lungs were underdeveloped.
Heidi has since learned that her placenta had started to fail following her 20-week scan. Ebony was small because she was not receiving all the nutrients she needed.
She said: "I'd been so well during the pregnancy. I'd taken a day off work because I'd got a cold. The next day I was seeing my midwife. I wasn't worried about anything."
But when it was spotted that Heidi's blood pressure was high, her midwife rushed her off to the hospital.
The baby was monitored and Heidi and Craig discovered they were expecting a little girl.
"I knew that the situation was serious so I wasn't surprised that I was kept in for the night," said Heidi.
"When I started getting pains in my ribs, I was given steroids to help the baby. We were told that the baby might have to be delivered.
"It was so early. I was really worried. We'd only just started getting the nursery ready," she said.
"At the weekend, Craig had put the border up and we'd started to feel quite excited about the baby.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I think we'd get to meet her so soon after that. It was pretty terrifying."
Heidi lived in Ripley at the time Ebony was born. She has since moved in with Craig and the pair now live in Kirkby-in-Ashfield, with their treasured daughter.
"I felt so helpless," said Heidi. "That's was the hardest part. When I finally started to feel better, I went to see Ebony in the incubator. I was so surprised. She was so tiny but she was so lovely, too.
"She was wearing a little hat and she had the little teddy bear in her hand. My sister bought it for her and it was a special gift. I cried and cried. I don't think the seriousness of the situation had kicked in by then. I felt lucky to have her but at the same time, I knew Ebony had to fight so hard to survive."
Ebony made good progress in the first week of her life. Heidi made a rapid recovery, too, and spent as much time as she could with her daughter in the hospital's special care baby unit.
"I had to get well," said Heidi. "I suppose I knew I had to because I needed to be there for Ebony.
"The second week got a whole lot more complicated when Ebony developed an infection. We were told to expect a roller-coaster ride and that's what we got.
"At that stage, she wasn't even taking breast milk; she was still too small. She was so tiny and so poorly. It was a terribly scary time."
After ten days, Heidi was discharged from hospital but Ebony's stay would be a whole lot longer.
"I think I missed one day in 119," said Heidi. "I had a cold and didn't think I should go in and spread my germs. I went to see Ebony at about 11ish every day and stayed until late in the afternoon."
Heidi said her first "kangaroo" cuddle – which means having skin to skin contact – with Ebony was the most amazing experience.
Ebony was taken out of her incubator and put down Heidi's top.
"It was so lovely," she said. "I'd hardly touched her and all I wanted to do was hold her in my arms. I think she was about three weeks old. Craig took some wonderful photographs and we were able to show all our family and friends. She was still so tiny, but it was lovely to have her on my skin."
Ebony needed round-the- clock care and attention. She was subjected to all kinds of tests to check how she was developing.
The progress was long and complicated. She developed a blood clot on her aorta and doctors had to treat it.
"No-one could rush Ebony," said Heidi. "She had to do it herself. She had to get well and fight against infections.
"I sat and watched her for hours and hours. The staff at the hospital become familiar faces and other parents become your friends."
Heidi is grateful to one mum whose child was also on the unit. The pair shared their days together and took it in turns to talk about their premature babies. Since Heidi has taken Ebony home, they have talked on the phone and met up.
"When you're going though something so terrible you really need to talk to people," said Heidi.
"We were forced together in very serious circumstances but it's amazing how you stick together."
Building up their hopes was something Heidi and Craig learned not to do. More than anything else in the world they wanted to bring their baby daughter home but the pair had to be patient.
To keep him busy, Craig started thinking of ways to raise cash for Friends of the Baby Unit. He organised a 20k run and invited people to sponsor him. He also wrote more than 150 letters to the rich and famous asking for top-quality raffle prizes. The response was phenomenal.
Craig explains: "People like Joanna Lumley, Paul O'Grady, Vernon Kay and Sir Michael Caine all sent stuff through. We sold 5,000 raffle tickets. It was amazing.
"Before we knew it we had raised about £2,000 and by the end of the year I hope to be able to add another £500. And the letter we received from Prince William, Kate Middleton and Prince Harry was lovely. It was overwhelming. The response was fantastic."
Craig can't thank the hospital enough for caring for Heidi and Ebony. He says the staff are "superhuman" and deserve special recognition.
"I might not have had Heidi or Ebony without their amazing help and medical expertise," he said. "Everyone who helped to look after both my girls was truly wonderful."
Ebony was discharged from hospital on June 1. She weighed a healthy 6lb. Since then, she has put on even more weight and everyone is delighted with her progress.
"She has chronic lung disease," said Heidi. "And she's on oxygen but boy can she cry. She raises the roof from 8pm to 11pm most nights but that's fine. We cuddle her and try and settle her down."
Since taking Ebony home, they have been overwhelmed by people's generosity.
"It has been lovely," said Heidi. "We've had cards and presents and people coming to see us. My sister bought Ebony that tiny teddy and that was a very lovely thing to do."
Despite the heavy oxygen canister Ebony needs, the couple have managed to enjoy a couple of family days out. And next month, the three of them are going to a wedding.
"I have a lovely dress for her but it's never going to fit," said Heidi.
Despite her terrifying start, the future looks positive for baby Ebony now. Doctors are delighted with her progress and hope she is over the worst.
She's still little," said Heidi. "She's five months old and yet she still only weighs around 9lb but we're not bothered about that. She's an incredible baby who has shocked us all. We'll be here for her every step of the way and we'll always help her.
"Ebony will always be our little miracle."