Georgina Chapman, 30, Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, explains how her daughter's daddy made all the difference...
When our daughter Alice-Anna came into the world on 6 August 2015, it was love at first sight.
‘Oh, my God!’ I gasped, as the midwife placed the 7lb 6oz bundle on my chest. ‘She’s beautiful.’
With masses of dark hair and a perfect little face, she was the image of her big sister Mia, then 4.
But, while Mia had struggled to breastfeed, Alice-Anna just latched on and started suckling.
My hubby Andy went with Alice into the Recovery Room, while I recovered from the Caesarean. But, when I held Alice again, I noticed something.
‘She’s making a funny grunting noise,’ I told the midwife.
‘Relax,’ she said. ‘She’s fine.’
But, despite her assurances, my instinct told me otherwise.
‘I just know this isn’t right,’ I fretted to Andy, 41.
It was a snuffly, moaning noise, like she was struggling, and she wouldn’t relax or settle.
As the paediatrician walked past, Andy pulled him aside. He took Alice into another room and measured her oxygen levels.
‘She’s got breathing difficulties,’ he agreed. ‘We need to take her to Special Care.’
Just hours old, and going downhill fast, our baby was whisked away for X-rays.
‘She’s got a hole in the heart,’ a doctor explained afterwards.
‘In the womb, all babies have a hole, but it usually closes up when they’re born.’
For some reason, Alice’s hadn’t…
There’d been no indication anything was wrong when I was pregnant, so it came as a total shock.
That morning, she was blue-lighted to Addenbrooke’s Hospital and put on life support, in an induced coma.
But Alice continued to deteriorate. So we had her christened and, the following day, she was rushed to Great Ormond Street Hospital, gravely ill.
Meanwhile, Mia was being looked after by her grandparents.
Miraculously, Alice’s heart improved – but, suddenly, all the machines started beeping, alarms going off. Doctors and nurses raced around her, frantically trying to get her vital stats back up.
‘What’s going on?’ I panicked.
‘The pressure from much-needed air being pushed into Alice’s lungs has caused them to collapse,’ the doctor explained. ‘She might not survive the night.’
They put in a drain, and hooked her up to machines to monitor the pressure.
In the hours and days that followed, I expressed milk to be fed to her through a tube, but I could hardly bear to go into her room, I was so terrified.
Andy was brilliant, though.
‘I don’t want her to be on her own,’ he explained. ‘I want her to know we’re willing her to get better.’
A professional singer on cruise ships, he sat next to her incubator, holding her tiny hand and singing to her for hour after hour.
I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day… he crooned.
‘She might be in a coma,’ Andy told me, ‘but I’m sure she can still hear me.’
Determined, strong and calm, Andy sat with Alice, singing as the days passed and her lungs collapsed another nine times.
Doctors battled to manage her complex condition.
On one occasion, she was in such a bad way, she’d gone blue and needed CPR. Andy and I stood there crying, praying for a miracle.
‘I can’t live like this,’ I sobbed to the doctors…so they agreed to try one last thing.
‘We’ll glue her left lung,’ they explained. ‘There’s a tear that keeps causing them to collapse. The procedure’s called pleurodesis. It promotes white blood cells to repair the holes.’
‘Anything to make her better,’ we agreed.
‘It’s not guaranteed,’ they warned. ‘There’s a 60/40 chance it’ll work.’
Our only hope.
Alice was about 5 weeks old when doctors inserted the ‘glue’ into her left lung through the hole where the drain was. Then all we could do was wait…
Eight days on, Alice’s left lung collapsed again, so doctors glued it for a second time.
A few days passed, then a few more…
‘She’s doing really well,’ doctors smiled.
Gradually, they reduced her medication, then brought her out of the coma.
Andy and I broke down in tears as she gripped hold of his finger tightly and her beautiful eyes flickered open.
‘She won’t let go,’ Andy smiled.
After six long weeks in a coma, Alice was on the mend.
At 9 weeks old, she was allowed home for good. Mia was over the moon to have her sister back, and we could finally be a proper family.
Thankfully, two months on, a scan showed the hole in Alice’s heart had closed up, and she progressed brilliantly.
She’s now 20 months old and loves playing with Mia, now 6.
Physically, she’s developing well, but we’re keeping an eye on her communication, in case she’s got developmental delay.
She’s a real Daddy’s girl – they have an incredibly close bond.
Whenever he sings with his guitar, she’ll dance around, smiling and clapping her hands.
After all the time he spent with her when she was poorly, it’s not surprising that she hardly leaves his side.
These two are definitely going to stick together!