Love & Family

Mum’s amazing story: My premmie baby was saved by a sandwich bag

An unusual item saved this baby's life.
Tegan Johnson photography

When her baby needed a lifeline, Rachael turned to an unusual household item.

Here, Rachael Sibley, 36, tells the story in her own words.

The Facebook photo had gone up – it was all getting very real.

Six months pregnant and the countdown begins. Can’t wait, I wrote next to a photo of myself and my bump. As the well wishes came flooding in from our friends, my partner Kyle, 32, and I were super excited.

Expecting our first baby, we’d recently found out she was likely to be a girl. ‘I’m not 100 per cent sure,’ the sonographer said. ‘She’s wriggling around too much.’ But that didn’t stop us buying pink onesies!

Decorating the nursery, we felt so excited, but with three months still to go, we knew we had plenty of time. ‘There’s no harm in being organised though,’ I said. Thank goodness we were! Just days later, our lives changed dramatically.

one week before
One week before our girl arrived (Credit: Supplied)

On the night of July 21 last year, I was feeling a bit off. My tummy was hurting and I couldn’t sleep. By 10:30pm the pain was more frequent and getting worse.‘Let’s call the midwife,’ I said, waking Kyle. ‘Meet me at the hospital and I can check you over,’ she suggested. But as I started getting dressed, I felt a pop and what I thought must be blood run down my legs.Waddling to the bathroom I realised it was actually my waters. But I was only 24 weeks pregnant. ‘Kyle my waters have broken,’ I screamed. ‘Call an ambulance.’

I frantically dialled the midwife again as Kyle came rushing upstairs with towels. And just in time. As a horrific contraction tore through me, I looked down to see the baby’s head was out. ‘It’s too soon,’ I screamed as another one forced the rest of our teeny baby girl into the world. I caught her as Kyle took instructions from the emergency operator. In total shock I just held her. I thought she was okay but Kyle was lying next to us compressing her chest with his fingers and breathing into her mouth.

It felt like hours, but about 12 minutes later, paramedics burst into the room.I’ll never forget the look on their faces as they saw our baby. There was a flash of shock before they quickly composed themselves and got on with saving her life. ‘Is she okay?’ I asked desperately as everyone tried to reassure me. Kyle had got her breathing, but an oxygen mask was put over her mouth and then they needed to get her warmed up. All their equipment was way too big for her. ‘Have you got a sandwich bag?’ one asked as Kyle rushed to the kitchen. Then he popped her tiny body in the plastic zip-lock bag.

Bella two hours
Bella at two hours old – it was touch and go (Credit: Supplied)

The toe was cut off one of his socks to make a little hat, then we were whisked off to hospital with sirens blaring. It was only once we got there that I realised the seriousness of the situation. ‘She was very cold and had a lack of oxygen,’ the paediatrician said. ‘There could be brain damage. What do you want us to do?’I looked at her blankly. What did she think I wanted her to do?  ‘Do whatever you can to save her,’ I said, desperate to be with my baby.

In the NICU she looked so tiny. At 805 grams, even the smallest nappy didn’t fit her. With tubes and wires attached all over, she looked so vulnerable. ‘You’re still meant to be inside me,’ I whispered, knowing she’d come 16 weeks early. Could she possibly survive?

Over the next few weeks, it was touch and go. Naming her Bella, Kyle and I were determined she’d pull through.

Incredibly, by December, five months later, Bella weighed 4.5 kilos and was ready to come home. She still had a tube in her nose and needed oxygen for a few more weeks, but the day we’d prayed for had finally come.

In that first week at home the ambulance crew from St John came to visit. ‘I didn’t think she’d make it,’ one admitted. ‘Prems her age only have 22 per cent chance if they’re born in hospital, so Bella had about zero per cent chance.’

st John
With the special team from St John (Credit: St John Ambulance)
first day home
The day we could finally take Bella home (Credit: Supplied)

It gave me goosebumps as I kissed Bella, knowing how lucky we’d been. So many things had lined up correctly for her to survive. Kyle had just taken a refresher first-aid course at work so he knew exactly how to resuscitate her.The recent storms had abated that night, meaning the ambulance made it to us quickly. And her birth itself saved her life, and maybe even mine.

‘You had an infection in your placenta,’ the doctor said after it was tested. ‘The best case scenario was birth,’ I was told. ‘Because if not, it could have turned to sepsis and both of you could have died.’

Ten months on and Bella is doing really well. She’ll be monitored until she’s five years old but all is looking good. We are just so grateful to the St John crew and the NICU who saved her life. We’re fundraising for them now, but nothing we can ever do will repay them for our beautiful Bella.

Bella today
Our beautiful Bella today (Credit: Supplied)

To donate visit: stjohn.org.nz

Read more in this week’s issue of that’s life!

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