Pregnancy & Birth

Miracle premature baby Piper: One year on

What a difference a few short months can make!

By Ruth Devine

WATCH: The beautiful video of miracle baby Piper when she was a premature newborn in the player above.

The facts about premature birth in Australia are sobering. At what should be the happiest moment of a parent's life, over 48,000 newborn babies require the help of a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) or Special Care Nursery (SCN) every year. Of these babies, 27,000 are born prematurely and up to 1,000 lose their fight for life. And remember, that's just in Australia.

I know this all too well. I am the mum of five children, four of whom were born prematurely. Two of whom tragically died.

The hand and footprints of my premature twin daughters who did not survive. *(Image: Supplied)*
The hand and footprints of my premature twin daughters who did not survive. (Image: Supplied)

The names of my daughters who did not make it were Eliza Florence and Lois Lily. It's important for me that you know their names. I rarely get to say them out loud or write them down so to do so is a comfort.

The daughters that I share with my husband, Paul were twins; red-headed feisty girls who were born at 23 weeks and two days. They kicked just like regular babies when they were born, they cried lustily too. They held on to my little finger with their tiny hands as I cradled them. They lived for one hour and then gradually grew quieter before they died in our arms.

It will be 21 years in December and yet I can still hear those cries, still see Paul's face as he held Lois and the enormity of what was happening sank in, and still feel the touch of ice on my lips as I kissed their foreheads goodbye as they lay snuggled up together in their snow-white coffin.

Eliza weighed 1.1kg when she was born; Lois was only 900g. Tiny but beautiful, they were perfect in every way. They were just born too soon.

READ MORE: Amazing shots of premature babies, before and after

In the intervening years, medical advances for premature babies have come on leaps and bounds. The fact that I am fortunate enough to now have three sons, the eldest two of whom were born prematurely and survived, is testament to that. But there is still a huge amount of work to be done.

There are thousands of families each year who experience the same shock and fear that we went through all those years ago, who know what it's like to see your delicate baby, smaller than any you've ever seen before, looking like a fledgling bird wired up to monitors and machines with cannulas in their fragile arms.

WATCH: The world's most premature baby

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Who understand what it is to give birth and be almost too afraid to love for fear of the pain that will ensue when your darling baby does not make it and you have to say goodbye forever. Who spend long hours keeping watch by the incubator which holds your heart, the only sound the beeping of the monitor reassuring you that your baby is still alive, not daring to hope, not allowing yourself to dream that one day your precious love will be able to come home.

That's why World Prematurity Day on Saturday, 17 November is so important. It's a day to remember the premature babies who did not make it and to celebrate the ones who did.

The latter includes the likes of my boys, Joss, 19, and Louis, 17. They may have had a rough start to life but here they are as young men, 6ft 4in tall, healthy, bright and happy. Joss is at uni and Louis has just gone into Year 12 of high school. They are two of the good news stories. Just like premmie baby, Piper Gaskell.

Miracles *do* happen. My premature eldest boys, Louis, 17, (left) and Joss, 19, (right) with their brother Barney, 12, (middle) who went full-term. *(Image: Supplied)*
Miracles do happen. My premature eldest boys, Louis, 17, (left) and Joss, 19, (right) with their brother Barney, 12, (middle) who went full-term. (Image: Supplied)

Piper was born four months prematurely weighing only just over 653g. To see pictures of her as a newborn is shocking.

Born at just 24 weeks, Piper spent her first few months in hospital. *(Image: Scott McNaughton)*
Born at just 24 weeks, Piper spent her first few months in hospital. (Image: Scott McNaughton)
Wired up to countless monitors and with an NG (naso-gastric) tube up her nose, Piper's early days were spent in NICU. *(Image: Scott McNaughton)*
Wired up to countless monitors and with an NG (naso-gastric) tube up her nose, Piper's early days were spent in NICU. (Image: Scott McNaughton)
Teeny tiny toes on newborn Piper cradled in mum, Hayley's hand. *(Image: Scott McNaughton)*
Teeny tiny toes on newborn Piper cradled in mum, Hayley's hand. (Image: Scott McNaughton)

But what's equally shocking but in an oh-so good way are these pictures of Piper, a year on.

Just look at her now!

Piper looks nothing like the tiny newborn who spent over 140 days in hospital fighting to survive. *(Image: Belle Chapman)*
Piper looks nothing like the tiny newborn who spent over 140 days in hospital fighting to survive. (Image: Belle Chapman)

"Piper is doing awesome, better than I expected. I thought that this year we would be in and out of hospital, but Piper is a little trooper and is determined to let nothing get in her way," says her mum, Hayley Buhagiar, 29, from Moe, Victoria.

Miracle baby Piper Gaskell with her mum, Hayley Buhagiar. *(Image: Belle Chapman)*
Miracle baby Piper Gaskell with her mum, Hayley Buhagiar. (Image: Belle Chapman)

Indeed, a year since those difficult six months spent in NICU, and thanks to the support of the Miracle Babies Foundation, little Piper can be seen smiling, clapping, trying to walk, talking, and cheekily giving her mum head shakes when she gets into trouble.

Which is just the way we like it!

Cheeky chops! It's hard to believe looking at Piper now that the brave bub weighed just over 653g at birth. *(Image: Belle Chapman)*
Cheeky chops! It's hard to believe looking at Piper now that the brave bub weighed just over 653g at birth. (Image: Belle Chapman)

Joss, Louis and Piper are the premature babies who made it but for the sake of the thousand Australian premmies who sadly do not survive each year, we need to act.

"It's such an uncontrolled and difficult experience having a premmie, but the help of family, friends and an incredible support base of nurses and professions that helps give with the peace of mind that help is never far away," says Hayley.

So what can you do?

It's simple. From now until 17 November, you can join Tommee Tippee and the Miracle Babies Foundation in encouraging everyone you know to help save a little miracle by 'tipping in' in an effort to raise $20,000 and match Tommee Tippee's annual donation. Click the link here to make a donation.

The money raised means the Miracle Babies Foundation can offer 300 families access to their NurtureProgram, which includes: a 24-hour helpline, support sessions with qualified volunteers, out of hospital play and support groups, access to health professionals such as speech pathologists, physiotherapists, family support nurses, social workers and occupational therapists, and emergency care packs and NICU Survival Packs as a helpful tool for parents. Believe me, support like this is invaluable.

READ MORE: Miracle worker – Touching video of a NICU nurse being thanked by her former patients

"For families challenged with a premature or sick baby, the experience can be life changing," says Kylie Pussell, CEO and Co-Founder of The Miracle Babies Foundation."We are grateful for the amazing support of Tommee Tippee. The partnership will certainly go a long way in helping us touch the lives of more families in Australia in need of our support."

The fundraising efforts will run from 17 October until the 17 November, and anyone people can lend their support and make a donation any time via the Tommee Tippee Raisley website.

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