My baby was killed by a kiss

Sarah's daughter was showered with love when she was born. Then tragedy struck.
that's life!

Sarah Pugh, 28, Mackay, Qld

Published in issue 9, 2015

There was no doubt our baby girl was perfect. No-one could resist gently stroking Eloise’s chubby cheeks or smothering her in kisses, especially me. But despite being born healthy, it was one of those simple acts of affection that left our girl fighting for her life.

When my partner Douglas, 34, and I discovered Eloise was on her way, it was quite a shock. I already had Ashbee, six, and Hahn, five, from a previous relationship, and 16 months ago we had a girl, Evangeline. The thought of a fourth child was daunting but as my belly blossomed, so did our joy.

At 37 weeks, I felt under the weather. My temperature soared and I could barely keep my eyes open. Hospital staff assured me it was fine, but when I went into labour our baby’s heart rate climbed.

‘We need to perform an emergency caesarean,’ the doctor told me. Having only ever had natural births, I was terrified something would go wrong. But thankfully, Eloise came into the world a beautiful shade of pink and with a great set of lungs!

‘She’s perfect,’ Douglas said proudly.

(Credit: that’s life!)

Despite my elation, I still felt slightly ill so we stayed longer at the hospital than expected. Friends and family visited, showering Eloise with kisses and cuddles. Just like her siblings, she was surrounded by love.

But when we brought our new bundle home three days later, something seemed off. Between breastfeeds, she was dozing sixteen hours a day. I was still taking medication for my illness, perhaps that was affecting her? ‘Never wake a sleeping baby,’ the home-care nurse smiled, assuring me everything was fine.

But when another nurse came a few days later, she noticed that Eloise had lost 700 grams in a week. ‘You’d better take her to hospital,’ she said. Assuming it was a feeding issue, I followed her orders. There, doctors tried giving Eloise breast milk and formula but she still didn’t take it. Finally, they inserted a feeding tube into her tiny nose. They were puzzled as to what could be wrong. She’ll get better, I told myself. How wrong I was…

The following morning, a doctor delivered shocking news. ‘We need to transfer Eloise to Townsville,’ he said. I didn’t understand – wasn’t it just a feeding problem? ‘It’s just a precaution,’ he continued, explaining the hospital had better facilities.

When the team arrived for transfer, they decided Brisbane Hospital was a better option after seeing how sick she was. By then, our little girl’s organs had started shutting down, and the doctors had no idea why. ‘I promise I’ll get your daughter there,’ the transfer medic said. ‘After that… I don’t know.’

(Credit: that’s life!)

My head spun in confusion. Just hours ago, Eloise was fine. How had this happened? With Douglas at work, I arrived in Brisbane alone. There, Eloise no longer looked like she had when I’d cradled her in my arms. Instead, dozens of tubes spiralled out of her tiny body. It was a race against time. They couldn’t cure her if they didn’t know what was wrong.

‘Eloise’s father should catch the next flight here,’ a doctor urged. ‘We’re not sure how long she’s got.’ His words rang in my head and I broke down in tears. Somehow, I steadied my hands long enough to phone Douglas.

He couldn’t believe it. Even when he arrived and saw Eloise on a ventilator, struggling to breathe on her own, he refused to think the worst. The infection team tested for many illnesses but everything was coming back negative. It was incredibly frustrating. Something was killing our child!

In a bid to save her, doctors suggested putting Eloise on an ECMO machine. It would help her breathe and clean her blood, giving her body a chance to heal itself. Despite the risks involved, it was our last hope.

The next day, we discovered the cause of our bub’s illness. ‘She’s contracted the herpes simplex virus,’ a doctor said, explaining it’s a common virus that can be spread by coming into contact with a carrier – possibly via an active cold sore.

Douglas and I looked at each other in disbelief. People get cold sores all the time, surely they couldn’t be fatal? But as I’d never had the virus myself, Eloise hadn’t been born with sufficient antibodies to defend against it, making her dangerously ill. I sat there, reeling in shock, remembering all those people who’d showered her with love. Just one kiss was all it took.

(Credit: that’s life!)

Over the next few days, we played her songs like Somewhere Over The Rainbow and when we held her hand, she’d try to squeeze back. For a while, it seemed like the antibiotics and ECMO machine were working. Her lungs, liver and kidneys began functioning.

But the glimmer of hope was short-lived. Eloise developed a staph infection and for the second time, her organs failed. ‘I’m sorry,’ the doctor said. ‘There’s nothing we can do.’ My heart dropped. Just 24 days earlier, I’d given birth to a healthy baby girl. I couldn’t believe we had to say goodbye.

Before doctors switched off the machine, we moulded her tiny hands and feet in a plaster frame. Her life was unfairly cut short but we knew she’d be with us forever. The doctor turned off the life support on November 25 last year, as I cradled Eloise in my arms. Just 20 minutes later, Douglas and I watched as our girl slipped away forever.

Wiping away my tears at her funeral, I took comfort knowing she was finally at peace. We’d dressed her in angel wings so she could fly away to a better place. Then we released balloons and butterflies.

Today, Douglas and I still have bad days but we have to be strong for Eloise’s siblings. We’re telling our story so it might save other babies in the future. We hope it encourages people to be vigilant and wary about passing on illnesses to fragile newborns.

Our bubs deserve plenty of hugs and kisses. Let’s just make sure we can shower them with love for a very long time.

Cold sore caution
*Herpes simplex virus (HSV) usually causes skin infections.

*There are two types. HSV type 1 is carried by about 80 per cent of the population and causes blisters on the mouth, eye or lips known as cold sores.

*HSV type 2 is carried by around 12 per cent of people and affects the genital area. HSV infection in new babies can be severe and can even cause death.

*Reduce the risk by ensuring everyone washes their hands before touching a newborn.

*Do not kiss a baby or let others do so if you or they have cold sores on the mouth or lips. The virus is most contagious when a sore is present, but it can still be passed on even if you can’t see it.

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