Far from home

Posted on March 02, 2016

Far From Home Hero

Two families tell Bliss about their experiences of neonatal transfers when their poorly babies were miles from home.

Looking back on Little Bliss

Little Bliss magazine will celebrate its tenth anniversary in April. To mark a decade of our magazine for parents, we’ll be looking back at some of the most inspiring family stories and popular topics from our previous issues.

Issue 14, 2009: Far from home

“There are no certainties when your baby is born early,” says Tamsin Hough, mother of Caidence, born at 24 weeks. Tamsin’s ideas about giving birth for the first time were shattered when she suddenly went into labour at 21 weeks in February 2007, and was faced with the frightening reality of her 1lb 6oz daughter fighting to survive.

To add to Tamsin’s fears, at two weeks old Caidence was transferred over 40 miles away from home. Transfers can be necessary to ensure a baby receives the best possible treatment at the appropriate level unit, or to move the baby closer to home. However, Caidence’s transfer was not for these reasons, she was moved because another baby needed her cot in intensive care.

Caidence is not alone. On average, three babies a day were transferred due to a lack of fully staffed cots in 2007. Units across the UK were often working at or above full capacity, meaning they sometimes had to close to new admissions. The picture has not changed significantly in 2015. The Bliss baby report 2015: hanging in the balance found that 855 babies were transferred in England in 2014/15 because the neonatal unit they were in was full. However, this number does not yet include figures for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which will be released in spring, so is likely to be higher for the whole of the UK.

Tamsin hadn’t even held Caidence before she was taken away in an ambulance to a hospital over two hours away. “I felt heartbroken as I had been with her all the time and suddenly I had to leave her on her own to go through this ordeal. I wasn’t allowed in the ambulance with her because of all the equipment – there wasn’t room for me.” Tamsin caught the train, and on her arrival at the new hospital, found that Caidence had become cold on the journey, was vomiting and unable to keep up her temperature.

Baby Caidence

“As we weren’t local patients at the hospital, I was told I couldn’t stay with my baby.” Tamsin and her husband Michael had to travel to see Caidence every day and Tamsin also found it difficult to adjust to her baby’s care being in new hands. “Caidence had responded so well to the staff at the previous hospital, it was as if she knew their touch. I felt at a loss being on the new unit and was terrified she would suffer by being in different surroundings.”

Caidence spent a month in the new unit before being transferred to her local hospital. Tamsin and Michael welcomed this transfer as it meant their baby was stable and getting closer to home. “Now Caidence is a gorgeous, cheeky toddler,” says Tamsin. “We are so proud of how she came fighting back from the transfer. But I will always feel guilty that I wasn’t there for her during the journey.”

Torn between our twins

In December 2007, Adele McIntosh and Kenny Kelly from Surrey were staying with family for Christmas in Glasgow. Adele was 28 weeks pregnant with twins and when she started experiencing cramps on the night of 23 December she was taken by ambulance to Queen Mother’s hospital, Glasgow.

On arrival, Adele and Kenny were told that there weren’t two cots available and they would have to be transferred to Glasgow’s Southern General Hospital to deliver. Adele says: “It was very upsetting. I didn’t fully understand that I was in premature labour and the feeling of being transferred on top of this was terrifying.”

May and Elenie were delivered that night at Southern General Hospital via caesarean section, just one minute apart, weighing 2lb 2oz each. While Elenie was relatively stable, May had a swollen stomach and bowel infection. She had to be transferred across the city to Yorkhill for specialist surgery.

For two weeks, Adele and Kenny felt torn between their vulnerable girls. They would visit May in the morning and Elenie in the afternoon, and then back to each of them in the evening. “It was exhausting,” Adele explains, “but we couldn’t bear not seeing them and felt we had to give them equal love and attention.”

Adele’s situation is unfortunately all too common, where twins and triplets are split up and treated in different units. For May, and many other babies, the transfer was essential, as Yorkhill was the only unit that could provide her with the specialist care she needed.

After eight weeks, the girls were airlifted separately over 48 hours to their local unit in Kingston-upon-Thames. Adele and Kenny travelled down separately and were very anxious to meet them at the other end. Adele feels the transfer couldn’t have been handled better and they were constantly reassured by the transfer team who were in contact every step of the way. She says: “For us, the transfers were a necessary evil, and having to cope so far from home has only made us stronger as a family. I have two beautiful daughters, and for that I’m eternally grateful.”

Get your free copy of the special tenth anniversary issue of Little Bliss here.

You can read the latest Bliss baby report: transfers of premature and sick babies on the Bliss website in spring.