The baby who lived against the odds

Joseph Bulmer

WHEN self-employed music teacher Rebecca Barrow began to feel some mild stomach cramps part way through a Tuesday afternoon keyboard lesson, little did she know that she would be giving birth to her son three hours later. At just 25 weeks and five days in

WHEN self-employed music teacher Rebecca Barrow began to feel some mild stomach cramps part way through a Tuesday afternoon keyboard lesson, little did she know that she would be giving birth to her son three hours later.

At just 25 weeks and five days into her pregnancy, Rebecca was not due to give birth until April 23; but within the hour, she was making an emergency dash to North Devon District Hospital with husband Rob.

The following minutes, hours, days and weeks will be a time that neither of them will ever forget.

Within minutes of arriving at the labour unit, the shocked couple were told that Rebecca was 5cm dilated and had gone into labour. The words of the consultant still ring in their ears: "You're going to have this baby today and we cannot stop it from coming."

While Rebecca burst into tears, husband Rob passed out as the gravity of the news washed over them.

At 6.32pm on Tuesday, January 12, after just an hour of strong contractions, Vincent Lucien Balzani Barrow was born. Three-and-a-half months early, he was still in his water sack and weighed just 1lb 12oz.

"Other than thanking God that he was with us, I don't really remember very much after that," said Rebecca. "We were in total shock and just prayed and prayed with some of the midwives on duty."

While the birth was relatively uncomplicated, the complications that lay ahead were only just beginning to mount up.

The speed of Vincent's arrival meant there was no time to get to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Derriford Hospital, Plymouth, Devon and Cornwall's level three unit for the most critically ill or premature babies.

Instead, a team at North Devon's level one Special Care Baby Unit took charge of the delivery. Even then, they were unable to transfer to Plymouth until the following afternoon after high winds grounded the helicopter and because of snow and ice on the roads.

Common problems

Weeks later, when Vincent was transferred to Bristol, staff at the hospital had all heard about "the baby who got stuck in the snow".

On his eventual arrival in Plymouth, and with Vincent's condition beginning to deteriorate, the consultants sat the couple down and told them the severity of the situation.

After listing a number of common problems for premature babies; and giving them the best and worst case scenarios for each, it quickly became obvious that their brave little boy had a significant battle on his hands.

In the weeks that followed, every tiny improvement in his condition was met with euphoria, while every setback signalled heart-wrenching despair for Rob and Rebecca.

After a week in Plymouth, Vincent began tube feeding with his mum's milk, but was then transferred to the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children to repair a hole in his stomach.

By two weeks he was feeding 0.5ml of milk every four hours but had excess fluid on his brain and had to be transferred to Bristol's Frenchay Hospital for a head operation.

By three weeks, he was weaned off ventilation and morphine. His lungs were starting to work well, but his head was still swollen and his heart duct still to close.

By week four, the duct had closed and Vincent was beginning to breathe on his own, becoming stronger and healthier until by the end of the week he was taken out of intensive care and transferred to a "high dependency" ward.

At six weeks, Vincent had reached 3lb and was transferred to the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital. At eight weeks, he weighed 3lb 12 and was well enough to return to North Devon District Hospital, where he came off all his monitors less than two weeks later.

"From a physiological point of view Vincent is putting on weight and behaving like a normal baby; the medical point of view has no way of knowing how he is going to be affected by all this in the long-term; but we believe God is at work" said Rob.

"He is on medication and is monitored daily and will need another operation on his stomach and possibly another on his head."

It was only during Vincent's time in hospital that Rob and Rebecca learned thatthe name they had chosen for their son meant "conqueror, victorious, man of light".

"He's our awesome and determined little hero, showing us all what he's capable of and continuing to battle on in the face of so many obstacles," said Rebecca.

"He's an amazing little boy, who has been through so much and is living proof of the power and healing of God."

Although the doctors don't really know why Vincent came early, there is a possibility that the early labour was due to Group B Streptococcus, a bacteria carried by around a third of woman.

"I don't understand why he was born early but I feel at peace with it," said Rebecca. "I feel that it happened for a reason; who knows what would have happened if I'd have carried him full term - for whatever reason, my body wanted me to have him then."

The couple say they want to thank Jesus and the medical teams in Barnstaple, Plymouth, Exeter and Bristol for saving their son's life.

They are extremely grateful to their parents for their unwavering support and willingness to babysit, drive and cook whenever needed.

They also thanked family, friends and fellow members of the Grosvenor Church in Barnstaple - many of whom have provided home-cooked meals and cakes - as well as local churches, which have ensured that prayers have been said for Vincent by people all over the world.

The couple intend to hold a fund-raising event for the Ronald McDonald House charity, which provides free "home away from home" accommodation for families with children in hospital.

"After I left the hospital the night Vincent was born, I went to get something to eat at McDonald's and noticed a Ronald McDonald House charity collection box on the counter," said Rob.

"I'd never heard of the charity before but for some reason decided to put some money in the pot that night," he said.

"I had no idea that two weeks later, we'd be staying in a Ronald McDonald House ourselves.

"The charity gave us the chance to be together as a family, away from the hospital environment. It made life so much easier for us and we want to try and raise some money to say thank-you.