Love & Family

Woman’s warning to expecting mums: how a scan could save your baby

'I knew something wasn't right...'
Nicole Cameron photography

When her happy bub changed, Jess was adamant something was wrong…

Here, Jess Franklin, 26, tells the story in her own words.

Sprawled over the bathroom floor, my stomach was churning.

‘Maybe you’re pregnant,’ my partner Kevin, 39, joked from the doorway.

I took my birth control like clockwork so there was no way I could be, but I took a pregnancy test just in case. Running out the bathroom I leaped into Kevin’s arms.‘We’re having a baby!’ I cried, planting a kiss on his lips.

At our 19-week scan we found out we were having a girl. Heading to the shops I filled every inch of the nursery with different shades of pink.

In August, 2017, I gave birth to a healthy bub. ‘Nice to meet you, Emerald,’ I whispered to my beautiful girl as she clung to my finger.

Blessed with the perfect baby, Emerald never made a fuss and always slept through the night.

Placing my bub on her belly at four months old, I was excited for her to try out tummy time. But as soon as I
placed her on the mat she began screaming and rocked herself until she flipped back over. ‘Shhh,’ I hushed in Emerald’s ear, calming her down.

But every time I placed her on her belly, she screeched until she turned purple.I just felt like something wasn’t right with my girl.

After I was struck down with a cold, Emerald rejected breastfeeding and I began bottle feeding her.
Her breathing was often shallow and fast, she stopped gaining weight and no longer slept through the night.
Is it my fault? I wondered, blaming myself for being unable to breastfeed.

Taking her to our local GP, I just wanted to make sure my bub was okay. ‘You’re doing a great job,’ the doctor assured me.

family photo
Me, Kevin and Emerald (Credit: Supplied)

Two months later, Emerald wasn’t acting herself so I decided to keep a close eye on her that night. Lying her down in the cot, I leaned on the rails, watching her chest rise and fall rapidly. ‘I think she’s breathing too fast,’ I told Kevin.
‘She’s beyond perfect,’ he comforted.

Still, every half hour I would sneak into her glowing pink room to make sure she was okay. After Kevin had left for work – and still convinced something was wrong – I started counting her breaths. Knowing she shouldn’t be taking more than 60 a minute, I watched her closely….78, 79, 80, I counted.

Picking up my girl, I brought her close to my chest, but she was limp. Going into crisis mode, I quickly buckled Emerald in the car and raced to the hospital. Once there, they whisked her to an emergency ward and all I could do was hold her tiny hand. I was trying to keep calm as I stroked her chubby cheeks.

But Emerald’s chest stopped moving and her eyes rolled to the back of her head. ‘Emerald!’ I screamed shaking her little arms. Pushing me aside, the doctors raced to her side as tears rolled down my cheeks. ‘You need to leave,’ they said.

Unable to move from the shock, I had to be dragged out of the room by my sister Jade, 24, who’d rushed to
be with us. ‘She’s a fighter,’ Jade reassured me.

After what felt like forever, a doctor came to see us. ‘A virus attacked her heart,’ he explained. Emerald’s heart was three times bigger than it should be, causing her to go into cardiac arrest. She needed specialist care, 700km away, at Westmead hospital in Sydney. Kevin was on his way to be with us, so I jumped in the air ambulance with Emerald and he came later. Being brave for my little girl, I closed my eyes as I boarded my first ever plane.

air lifted
Emerald was air-lifted to Westmead (Credit: Supplied)

After nine hours of open-heart surgery, we paced the hospital, waiting for news.‘She’s made it through,’ said a doctor.

Diagnosed with ALCAPA syndrome, I learned my girl’s pulmonary artery and heart valves were all back-
to-front. It meant that they were pumping de-oxidised blood into the heart instead of expelling it. The only way they could save her was to cut her arteries and valves and switch them around.

Racing to her bedside, I saw her chest was sliced straight down the middle. A yellow gauze sat over her wound, but underneath,I could see into her chest. ‘They’ve had to leave it open because of the swelling,’ a nurse explained. I could literally see my girl’s heart beating inside her little body!

grateful mum
I was just grateful she was alive (Credit: Supplied)
Our miracle bub
Our miracle bub (Credit: Supplied)

Suffering a seizure on the operating table, Emerald had fluid sitting on her brain. Still on life support, I was just grateful my girl was alive. Each day I sang her a song I created to make sure she knew I was always there.

Three days later, they zipped up her chest, leaving a vertical stripe down her torso. She squeezed my hand nine days later and two days after that I got to hold her. Three weeks later she babbled her first word. ‘Mumma,’ my girl beamed.

We are forever grateful for the support our friends and family have given us. Seven weeks on from her operation, Emerald is still recovering but she amazes me every day. She is our miracle baby, our precious gem.

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

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