Little Cody French is a “lovable wee monkey” who bombs about like any other five-year-old.
But before he was born, doctors gave him just a 20% of survival and advised his mother multiple times to abort the pregnancy.
A scan at 20 weeks showed his tiny heart and lungs were being crushed by his intestines, which had escaped through a hole in his abdominal wall and into his chest cavity.
Devastated Banff parents Lisa MacDonald and Barry French were warned that if their son took just one deep breath at birth it could be fatal, as there was no room for all his organs in one small space.
Even if Cody did survive, they feared there was a chance he would need 24-hour care for the rest of his life, as his tiny body had been starved of oxygen.
I just thought ‘we have to give this bairn a chance’ – and now look at him.”
Proud mum Lisa MacDonald
But as she watches her dinosaur-daft boy “run rings” around his three older siblings, Miss MacDonald knows she made the right decision.
‘He’s as bright as a button’
As Cody now prepares to go to school after the summer, Miss MacDonald revealed his incredible journey and thanked the medical team for “amazing” effort.
Scans during the pregnancy showed the baby had congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH), a rare and deadly defect in which the abdominal wall muscle, which separates the abdomen from the chest, fails to form properly in the womb.
The condition, which affects just one in 2,500 to 3,000 babies, allowed his small and large intestines to rise up, squashing his tiny heart and lungs. His heart was also pushed out of position and his intestines fused together, as there was no room for them to grow. His left lung was also severely underdeveloped.
Miss MacDonald, 38, said: “At my appointments, all I remember is (doctors saying) termination, termination, termination. They said it a good few times because they didn’t think he would survive.
“But I just thought, ‘we have to give this bairn a chance’ – and now look at him. You would never know the fight he had to go through to be here. He’s bright as a button and keeps me on my toes.”
For the remainder of her pregnancy, she was unable to bring herself to buy any baby accessories for fear she would be returning home without him.
But Cody astounded medics when he was born at Aberdeen Maternity Hospital on March 16, 2016, fighting to cry, and weighing a healthy 8lb 1/2oz.
After a quick cuddle, he was whisked away and hooked up to a ventilator in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Two days later, Cody was transferred to the neighbouring Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital, where surgeons spent four hours repairing the hernia.
During the life-saving operation, his intestines were removed from his body while the hole in his abdominal wall muscle was stitched shut. Surgeons then separated his intestines and placed them back inside him.
Miss MacDonald said: “I can’t thank them enough for what they did for him. All the surgeons, nurses and doctors were just amazing, and the neonatal nurses deserve a medal. Without them all, he wouldn’t be here. We have been really lucky.”
As Cody fought for life in his incubator, Miss MacDonald and Mr French, a 48-year-old plumber, were warned their son may have to be transferred to Glasgow and hooked up in an ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation) machine which circulates the blood outside the body to give the heart and lungs time to recover.
But remarkably Cody was breathing on his own at just four days old and was home after a total of 13 days in hospital.
He’s the light of everyone’s life and runs rings around us all.”
Mum Lisa MacDonald
Cody’s teachers will ‘have their work cut out’ for them
Cody, who loves Lego, dinosaurs and learning about the sea creatures, now aspires to be a scuba diver when he’s older.
Miss MacDonald, who stayed in the Archie Foundation’s parents’ accommodation while she kept a vigil by her son’s side, said: “I know they have to give parents a choice and let them know the worst case scenario, but there are still success stories.
“We were told he’d have learning difficulties, would never be able to read and write, and went away thinking, ‘what if he needs to be [specially] cared for forever?
“But since he got out of hospital, we have never looked back.
“Now he’s really excited about starting school and I think the teachers will have their work cut out because he’s non-stop. He’s a proper lovable wee monkey and has a smile that can charm anyone.
“He’s the light of everyone’s life and runs rings around us all – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”