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Meet the miracle premature babies surviving and thriving thanks to Aberdeen’s Neonatal Unit

Brave little boy: Little Oscar has been cared for at the Neonatal Unit at Aberdeen Maternity Hospital since he was born 14 weeks early back in August. Photo by Chris Sumner/DC Thomson
Brave little boy: Little Oscar has been cared for at the Neonatal Unit at Aberdeen Maternity Hospital since he was born 14 weeks early back in August. Photo by Chris Sumner/DC Thomson

Weighing just 570 grams – a tad more than a small bag of sugar – baby Oscar was so tiny when he was born that he could fit into the palm of his mummy’s hand.

As a first-time parent, Sophie, from Aberdeen, says it was a truly “petrifying” experience when her son was born by emergency C-section at just 26 weeks.

But thanks to the “incredible” team at the Intensive Care Neonatal Unit in Aberdeen Maternity Hospital, Oscar is now 12 weeks old, has quadrupled his weight to 4lbs and 4oz and although he’s still being cared for in an incubator, he’s thriving.

Little fighter: Baby Oscar is one of around 800 babies who are cared for at the Neonatal Unit at Aberdeen Maternity Hospital each year. Picture by Chris Sumner/DC Thomson.

Little Oscar is one of about 800 poorly babies who are cared for each year at the specialist NHS Grampian Unit, which is supported by the Archie Foundation charity.

In advance of World Prematurity Day on November 17, which coincidentally happens to be Oscar’s original due date, Your Life visited the Neonatal Unit, meeting the small but mighty miracle babies, their stoic parents and the amazing staff who provide lifeline care round the clock.

During the exclusive behind the scenes visit, staff also explained how the new Baird Family Hospital in Aberdeen, which is being delivered by NHS Grampian in partnership with the Archie Foundation and is due to open in spring 2024, will transform neonatal services.

Baby Oscar: The miracle bundle of joy

Wee warrior: Little Oscar’s mummy Sophie says her precious son has turned a corner. Photo by Chris Sumner/DC Thomson

“Oh look he’s waving,” says Sophie, beaming with pride and joy as her brave baby boy Oscar, eyes wide open as if sensing the audience that has formed outside his incubator, lifts his tiny hand into the air.

“He’s been through it all this little boy,” says Sophie, as she stands over Oscar’s incubator, something she and his dad Jack have done since he was born on August 11 – 14 weeks early.

“He had surgery at three weeks old and he was so poorly that he couldn’t be transferred to the Children’s Hospital so they had to do it in here.

“We nearly lost him a couple of times which was petrifying.”

Harrowing experience

Sporting the tiniest – and cutest – grey and white striped elephant baby grow, Oscar’s energetic wriggling around belies the fact that he has been through more trials and tribulations than most adults in the first few months of his life.

Delivered by an emergency C-section at just 26 weeks, Oscar has faced many battles since entering the world.

“They scanned me and said my placenta wasn’t doing what it should be,” says Sophie.

“It was absolutely petrifying as he was born 14 weeks early which is crazy.

“He weighed 570 grams (1lb 4oz) so he was literally the size of two hands – he was so small.

“I didn’t know babies could survive that small.”

Precious bundle of joy: Little Oscar is comforted by mummy Sophie as nurse Eilidh McCann cares for him.<br />Picture by Chris Sumner/DC Thomson

Incredible staff

Oscar not only survived but he has slowly but surely thrived since being cared for in the intensive care department at the Neonatal Unit.

“He’s doing amazing now, he’s really turned a corner in the last couple of weeks,” says Sophie.

“It’s taken a long time to get here as the main problem was with his lungs, so he was ventilated for over a month and he’s had lots of different treatments to get him here, but he’s doing great.

“The staff are incredible.

“They talk you through everything and they always keep you up-to-date with everything, you’re never out the loop.

“There’s also a counsellor that comes round every Monday to make sure you’re OK and if you want to talk to her at any time she’s just in the office.”

Small but mighty: This photo shows just how tiny Oscar is. Picture by Chris Sumner/DC Thomson

Thanks to the amazing support they’ve received, Sophie says she no longer feels anxious when coming through the doors of the maternity hospital.

“At the beginning I was always so scared of the walk from the front door into the unit,” says Sophie.

“It always used to make us feel sick and really anxious as we’d always see doctors round him and there would be lots of alarms ringing.

“But we’re so excited to come in now as the [staff in the] Unit feel like our extended family.”

Day in and day out, Sophie, and Oscar’s doting dad Jack, are by their son’s side as he continues to get stronger.

“It’s easy not to feel like a mum, especially at the beginning, when you can’t touch him as much,” says Sophie

“But the staff have been amazing, so quite early on we were allowed to do things like change his nappies – they teach you everything and make sure you’re comfortable.

“Now he’s older we can do much more with him which is great.”

World Prematurity Day

And although it has been an extremely traumatic ordeal for the family, Sophie says she is grateful to be able to watch her precious baby boy grow.

“It has been really nice to watch him grow,” says Sophie.

“Not many other people get to see that.”

Indebted for the support they have received, Sophie is keen to raise awareness of the Neonatal Unit, especially as World Prematurity Day is only days away.

Brave boy: Oscar continues to get stronger every day. Picture by Chris Sumner/DC Thomson

By speaking out, Sophie hopes that Oscar’s story will help other parents in similar situations.

She also hopes it will inspire people to support the Archie Foundation, which aims to raise £2million to fund the vital finishing touches and additional specialist equipment for the new Baird Family Hospital.

“It’s so important to raise awareness of the unit as I didn’t know this was here until I had Oscar,” says Sophie.

Baby Malverde Isaac-Andidi – the little fighter

Little miracle: Baby Malverde was just 1lb 3oz when he was born but is gaining weight every day thanks to the amazing team at the Neonatal Unit within Aberdeen Maternity Hospital. Photo by Chris Sumner/DC Thomson

Softly cradling her precious one-week old son Malverde, who was born weighing just 1lb 3oz, Nelly Isaac-Andidi exudes a remarkable air of calmness given the ordeal she has been through.

Just days before, on October 28, Nelly suddenly gave birth to her son Malverde at home after going into labour at just 29 weeks.

“I had a normal pregnancy but I believe it was the stress of moving over here, looking for accommodation and trying to settle in that made the contractions start early,” says Nelly.

“The contractions started two weeks before Malverde was born.

“At one point I was admitted to hospital and was told everything was fine.

“The next day, in the early hours of the morning, the contractions became more forceful so I phoned an ambulance but even though the ambulance didn’t take long, I ended up giving birth at home.”

Proud mummy: Nelly says the support she has received since giving birth to her son Malverde at 29 weeks has been excellent. Photo by Chris Sumner/DC Thomson

Intensive care

Nelly says it was quite a daunting experience.

“I was scared because I hadn’t gave birth at home before but everything was fine,” says Nelly, who moved to Aberdeen from Nigeria just last month.

As little Malverde was so small he was rushed to the intensive care department at the Neonatal Unit where he is receiving specialist care.

“Malverde is doing fine,” says Nelly.

“He now weighs more and I’m happy as his breathing is normal, he doesn’t need oxygen.”

Precious bundle: Nelly softly cradles her beautiful little boy Malverde in her arms at the Neonatal Unit. Photo by Chris Sumner/DC Thomson

Excellent care

With her husband not due to arrive in Aberdeen from Nigeria until the end of the month, Nelly is juggling daily visits to the hospital to see her baby boy while caring for her little girl and studying for a degree in business management.

“The staff have been really helpful as they send me videos and pictures of him to let me know how he’s doing,” says Nelly.

Tiny trooper: Little Malverde is getting stronger every day. Photo by Chris Sumner/DC Thomson

“Luckily I’ve got support from a family friend over here.”

Despite the ordeal that Nelly has been through, she plans on returning to her studies.

“I came over here to study business management at university so I’m going to go back soon,” says Nelly.

Eilidh McCann, staff nurse

Compassionate nature: Staff nurse Eilidh McCann says caring for babies is so rewarding. Photo by Chris Sumner/DC Thomson

Bright and bubbly, it’s easy to see why Eilidh McCann is so popular with the families who suddenly find themselves in the Neonatal Unit.

With her sights firmly set on becoming a nurse from a young age, the 25-year-old from Aberdeen says it’s a dream come true to be caring for babies while being a tower of strength for their families in their time of need.

“It’s a very, very rewarding job,” says Eilidh.

“It can be quite intense at times and it’s very emotionally draining sometimes, but the good outweighs the bad.

There in time of need: Nurses like Eilidh McCann not only care for the babies but also make sure their parents are looked after too. Photo by Chris Sumner/DC Thomson

“It’s great just knowing that you’ve been able to give that family a little bit of good in amongst the bad, that little bit of hope.”

Working 12-and-a-half-hour shifts, Eilidh is one of a team of 120 nurses – both full and part-time – who work in the Neonatal Unit, which is divided into three main areas;
intensive care, high dependency and special care.

“Even when things don’t go as planned, it’s nice to know you’re able to make it as nice as possible for them,” adds Eilidh.

Julia Togneri, interim clinical nurse manager

Vital role: Julia Togneri works to ensure that the day-to-day running of the Neonatal Unit goes smoothly.<br />Photo by Chris Sumner/DC Thomson

With 32 years of experience in caring for poorly babies, Julia Togneri finds it hard not be on the frontline at the Neonatal Unit.

Showing off the colourful crutches she uses to get about the Neonatal Unit, Julia, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, now works behind the scenes as the interim clinical nurse manager.

But although Julia is no longer able to physically care for babies due to her health, her role as the interim clinical nurse manager is crucial.

“I used to be a senior charge nurse but unfortunately my health stopped that as I’ve got MS,” says Julia.

“So I do the operational side of things now.”

Caring nature

Softly spoken, Julia’s kind, compassionate and caring nature shines through as she explains that the new Baird Family Hospital will make a huge difference

“In intensive care we have 10 spaces but we try and keep it to eight (not very successfully) just because it’s so cramped,” says Julia.

“We’re so excited to get to the new Baird Family Hospital because the size of our current intensive care ward will be the size of the room for one baby at the new hospital.

“Every parent will have their own milk fridge and drug boxes plus there will be chairs that parents can lie back in and an area where they can relax.

Dedicated to neonatal care: Julia says the new Baird Family Hospital will offer more space for their neonatal services. Photo by Chris Sumner/DC Thomson

“There will also be little pendants on the ceiling that everything is attached to so the baby is almost in the middle of the room and everything else can be around them.

“It’ll be amazing.”

To date nearly £800,000 has been raised towards the Archie Foundation’s £2 million target to support the new Baird Hospital.

“NHS Grampian pays for the essentials such as the equipment and the building but the fundraising from the Archie Foundation is about providing those extra things,” says Julia.

“It’s the things that make a difference to families such as providing them with a sitting area so they can have a break and a cup of tea and having volunteers coming in and counsellors.”

Due to a lack of space at their current site, Julia says Covid was particularly tough.

“The really hard thing with Covid was that because of our lack of space, our initial instruction was to allow one parent in at a time,” says Julia

“It was just so awful for the families and it goes against everything we’re trying to do.

“For us it’s all about that family unit and keeping it together as much as possible – mum’s should be with their babies and we try and do that when we can.”

The Baird Family Hospital

Located directly in front of Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital (RACH), the Baird Family Hospital will bring together a wide range of clinical services in a way never seen before in Scotland.

For the first time in NHS Grampian’s history the following services will all be under one roof – maternity, gynaecology, breast screening and breast surgery services, a centre for reproductive medicine, an operating theatre suite and cutting-edge research and teaching facilities led by the University of Aberdeen.

To help fundraise

To find out more about how you can support The Archie Foundation’s campaign to raise money for the new Baird Family Hospital go to their website, email or phone 01224 559559.