Six weeks (or 1,008 hours, to be precise) was exactly how long one South African mother had to wait before she could hold her precious newborn baby. A previously undetected congenital defect nearly took his life.
In April, Nadia Greyling of South Africa was overjoyed at the birth of her baby boy, Ignus. “The first cry of your newborn baby is the most beautiful sound ever. My husband and I nodded at each other. We had no idea of what was waiting for us,” said Nadia Greyling, according to News 24.
Shortly after Ignus was born, it was clear that something was wrong. When nurses examined baby Ignus, they realized he was not getting the oxygen he needed. Ignus’ caregivers rushed him to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), where he was placed on a ventilator. When he did not appear to be improving, doctors diagnosed Ignus with congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH), a condition in which the “diaphragm does not close the right way during the baby’s development and abdominal organs push (“herniate”) through the defect into the chest cavity,” as explained by Cincinnati Children’s. The oxygen deprivation in the early days after birth can have life-long neurodevelopmental effects.
The news was a blow to the Greylings. “Dr. Ashley [Jeevarathnum] called us together with Ignus’ team of specialists and explained that our baby was not doing well at all,” Greyling shared, as reported by News24. “It felt as if someone had pulled the whole world out from under my feet, but we were desperate to give Ignus a chance.”
Baby Ignus’s doctors informed his parents that he would require a complex procedure known as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), using a machine that acts as an external heart and lungs, oxygenating and pumping blood to help give the heart and lungs a rest. In babies, the procedure begins with surgery to attach the pump through catheters, and the ongoing treatment requires a large team of doctors, a total of 10 in baby Ignus’ case. Risks include bleeding, infection, and the formation of blood clots. In addition to ECMO, Ignus required surgery to correct the CDH.
The nursing staff was a huge help and support for baby Ignus’ parents during the 12 days he was on ECMO. One nurse, Sr Ngobese who worked the night shift, embodied the medical team’s dedication. “When you take up a career in nursing you are making a promise to God that you will do everything to save a patient’s life,” she said. “Even when I was at home, I had to know how he was doing, and made the NICU promise to call me if there was any change in his condition or if there was any advice they needed.”
Against all odds, not only did baby Ignus recover from his surgery and treatment, but he appeared to be thriving. “The overall chance of survival for Ignus, all things considered, was extremely low, if not non-existent. Not only has he survived, but all indications are that he is physically well and neurologically sound. This is an absolute miracle,” said pediatric pulmonologist Dr. Ashley Jeevarathnum, according to News24.
And eventually, and at long last, Nadia finally got to hold her baby.
“Ignus’ story has raised the bar for South African neonatal care, showing that we can reach international standards of medical care for our children and achieve good outcomes even for highly compromised babies,” Dr. Jeevarathnum added, according to The Citizen.
The Greylings couldn’t be more grateful for the gift of baby Ignus’ recovery. “At some point, I thanked Dr. Ashley for what he has done so far, and I said that he had performed a miracle. His words will stay with me for a long time, and carried me through days and nights of uncertainty: ‘Christ performed the miracle, he just used my hands,’” Nadia said.
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