The boy who refused to stop fighting: premmie born at 23 weeks’ amazing survival story

'We've never had a baby this young survive before'
Rule Of Third Photography

When Lia went into labour at 22 weeks, her tiny bub didn’t give up.

Here, Lia Calzuola, 34, tells the story in her own words.

Painting a giraffe on the nursery wall, I felt a flutter of excitement in my stomach. With only one ovary and a history of ectopic pregnancies, my chances of having a baby had been devastatingly slim.

But my partner Jay and I had scrimped and saved to afford IVF, and amazingly, we had success with our first attempt.

Right from the beginning, the pregnancy wasn’t plain sailing though. I’d been bleeding heavily and at 16 weeks I’d had to give up work. Then at 22 weeks, I was woken up by excruciating cramps.

Jay was working a night shift, so his sister-in-law Nicole took me to hospital.‘You’re 2cm dilated,’ a doctor told me.

Over the next few hours, my cervix kept opening and closing again. Four agonising days later, a counsellor and doctor both came to speak to us.

‘You have to expect the worst,’ the doctor explained. ‘If the baby arrives now, it won’t even be at the 24-mark. We don’t usually resuscitate at this stage.’

Gently, they told us to think about the type of funeral our bub would have. But discussing a funeral was just not an option for us.

I’m going to make it to 24 weeks, I thought. We hadn’t known the sex of the baby, but with a chance of it not surviving, Jay and I now decided to find out.

My eyes filled with tears as we were told our baby was a boy. A son, I thought, rubbing my bump.

When I was 22 weeks and four days, I started to go into labour. The hospital didn’t have the facilities to care for such a tiny premmie. 

Luca has battled the odds and come out smiling (Credit: Rule Of Third Photography)

‘If you want a chance of saving him, we can transfer you to another hospital, which will help,’ a nurse explained. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind. ‘I want to save my baby,’ I declared.

So we were rushed to the Royal Brisbane Hospital, where I was hooked up to drips and given steroids and magnesium to slow down my contractions. There, the doctor had more heartbreaking news.

‘Your blood results show you’ve got an infected placenta. So we have to get the baby out now, or it’s likely neither of you will live,’ he said. ‘I could lose them both?’ Jay said in shock. I couldn’t take it in either.

Now, instead of trying to keep our bub in, I was given medication to help hurry the labour along.

‘We’ve never had a baby this young survive before,’ the doctor said. ‘If he is alive, you need to tell us whether you want him incubated, as there’s a high chance he’ll be disabled.’ ‘I can feel his little legs kicking in me right now. He feels healthy,’ I said. ‘I think we need to give him the chance he deserves.’

Jay agreed and so we told them to do everything they could to save our boy. From there, things moved frantically fast. Before I knew it, I was pushing our tiny precious son into the world. I didn’t even get to see him before he was rushed away to the NICU.

Next, they had to remove the infected placenta to save my life. Afterwards, I was recovering when Jay came in to see me. ‘He’s beautiful and so tiny,’ he wept.

Desperate to see him, Jay wheeled me to the NICU. Peering through the incubator, I gasped at how small he was.

Just 25cms (10 inches) long and 416 grams, he weighed about the same as a can of soup. ‘Hi Luca,’ I whispered. ‘We don’t expect him to last longer than 48 hours,’ the doctor warned.

Sitting with him, we willed him to fight. ‘We love you so much,’ I said. ‘I know you can pull through this.’

before surgery
Me and Jay visiting Luca in the NICU
Little Luca
Little Luca

Incredibly, after 48 hours, our little battler was still alive. There was still a long way to go though.

One of his heart valves – that usually closes after a baby is born – was still open. This meant his oxygen levels were seriously low. He’d need an operation to close it, but being so little, it was a massive risk.

‘I’ve never done this on a baby so small before, but this is his only shot at survival,’ the surgeon explained.

At just 18 days old, Luca was wheeled to the operating theatre for surgery. But he wasn’t out of the woods quite yet.

Suffering a collapsed lung three times, he had to fight to inflate and restore it. When his oxygen levels dropped, we were told to say goodbye.

‘You’ve already battled so much,’ I told him. ‘You can do this.’ He proved doctors wrong and fought back yet again.‘We’ve never seen a baby fight so hard to be here,’ one said. 

A teaspoon next to Luca’s tiny nappy

When Luca was six weeks old, I finally got to hold him and it felt truly amazing to have my bub snuggled in my arms.

Eventually, after five and a half months in hospital, we got to take our boy home. Weighing just three kilograms, he was still tiny.

We had to keep him hooked up to an oxygen tank at home as his little lungs were still so undeveloped. 

family photo together
Me, Jay and our special little man Luca

On his first birthday, Luca could finally breathe on his own.

Now 21 months, he’s so cheeky, crawling everywhere and chewing on everything!

Born at 23 weeks and two days, Luca is officially the youngest premmie to survive in Queensland. He’s the boy who refused to stop fighting.

With his true battler spirit, I still pinch myself when I think about how far he’s come.

Read more in this week’s issue of that’s life!, on sale now.

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