“We have lovely memories of decorating the Christmas tree on the unit” - Debbie’s story

Debbie 1

Debbie gave birth to her twins Daisy and Oliver at 26 weeks and five days and spent Christmas on the unit. She shares details about their neonatal stay and what happened when her babies caught RSV.

I went into labour without warning overnight on Saturday 16 October 2004, we arrived at Salisbury District Hospital at about 5.40 am.

At 6.25 am Daisy was born, followed at 6.35 am by Oliver. They were whisked away before I could see them, and at that stage I didn't know how they were doing.

All I knew was that at 26 weeks and five days, they had arrived far too early. Within half an hour someone had brought a photo of each of them in their incubators to us, and as soon as I was allowed to move my husband took me up to see them both.

We had already chosen names for them, and they immediately became Daisy and Oliver. The nurses explained to us exactly what was happening to them, and that they would be transferred to the intensive care neonatal unit at Portsmouth later that day.

I was able to discharge myself and we followed them down to Portsmouth. We were lucky enough to be given a parent room and stayed on the unit for the next two days and two nights. They were both in critical condition, with special concern about their lung development, and were fully ventilated for the first seven days.

From there they moved onto CPAP, although Oliver developed an infection and had to return to ventilation for a few days.

We drove backwards and forwards to the hospital every day. I used to ring the hospital last thing at night and first thing in the morning before we left to check everything was alright (neither of us had a mobile phone then!).

My heart would be in my mouth as I arrived on the unit in case something happened, as we travelled the hour from our house to the hospital.

My husband worked on his laptop in the carpark when he could, but I spent every minute by Daisy and Oliver's incubators. Although we couldn't hold them we could cup our hands over them, which often settled them if they had become distressed. Eventually, they were stable enough for their first cuddle and kangaroo hold.

The health professionals were all amazing, and we were kept fully informed at each step of the way which helped me a great deal.

Finally, after four weeks they were stable enough to be transferred back to Salisbury hospital. Daisy was first and then a day later, Oliver.

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They were still on CPAP but for the first time they were able to wear clothes. Over the next six weeks, they slowly put on weight and became more stable. Both had a patent ductus, a small opening in the heart which usually closes shortly after birth.

Oliver's closed with medication but Daisy's remained open, and she had minor surgery to close it when she was a year old.

Daisy came off CPAP quite quickly at Salisbury, but Oliver's respiratory development was less steady and when he finally stopped CPAP he still needed oxygen flow to help him breathe. As they became a little bigger and more stable, the wait for them to feed properly, put on weight and for Oliver to come off his oxygen became harder.

We spent Christmas on the unit and have some lovely memories of decorating the Christmas tree, and a visit from Santa on Christmas Day.

Eventually, it seemed that we were only a few days from being allowed to take them home when they both caught RSV, Oliver was very ill and one of his lungs partially collapsed.

One of the most terrifying moments of our time in neonatal care was waiting at midnight for an ambulance to come and take him to Southampton Hospital’s paediatric intensive care unit to receive specialised ventilation to help him while he fought this infection.

It was hard shuttling between the two hospitals, leaving one baby to be with the other. Oliver proved a fighter and was back at Salisbury hospital within a few days.

We could start planning again for going home, and finally, Oliver made it off his oxygen. The hospital marked their 100-day anniversary with a cake, and then amazingly on their 101st day, we were allowed to take them both home.

Today they are both bright, energetic 18-year-olds, studying for their A-Levels and planning to go to university next year. Aside from a couple of minor issues with Ollie's eyesight, neither have any lasting health problems from their prematurity.

I can't thank enough the many health professionals who looked after them throughout their time in Salisbury and Portsmouth hospitals, who have given us the life we have today.

Debbie 3