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Premature baby who was put in sandwich bag celebrates birthday

Original source (on modern site) | Article images: [1]

Little Dali-Grey Woodgates is a miracle baby in every sense of the word. After five miscarriages, her mum Bryony Woodgates was thrilled to discover she was pregnant with a baby girl.

But at 22 weeks the world came crashing down for Bryony and her husband Liam, when she started bleeding heavily and having contractions. Four days later, Dali was born, making her one of the UK's most premature babies at just 23 weeks and one day.

Weighing 1.2lbs at birth, she fitted into the palm of a hand. Medical staff put her in a plastic sandwich bag to keep her warm as material would have damaged her fragile, translucent skin and her first nappy was about the size of a McDonald's ketchup sachet.

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It's been a rollercoaster year for the West Bridgford couple, who feared they were losing her so many times - but now their daughter is a happy, healthy 13-month-old, who has just come off oxygen and weighs just over 19lbs. Bryony, 30, said: "I don't think there's an hour that goes past that I don't look at her and think that she is a miracle. In the truest sense of the word, she is just a miracle.

Dali-Grey Woodgates was just 1.2lbs when she was born

"She's 13 months old but she has a corrected age of nine months and she has no development concerns, she's just smaller. She's a little angel. She sleeps like a dream, eats well, she's just a really happy baby, she is just so chilled. She never really grumbles or fusses.

"She's nearly crawling. She does all the things a nine-month-old baby should be doing. She's amazing. To look at her you'd never known she'd been through all of that."

When first admitted to the City Hospital on January 17, 2022, staff feared Bryony was having a late miscarriage. She wasn't due to give birth until mid-May. "I just howled and howled and the doctor started crying as well. I was really touched by the humanity," she said.

The couple were warned if their baby survived she could be severely disabled and in need of round-the-clock care. Because gestation hadn't reached the 24-week cut off point for termination, they were given the heart-breaking option of ending the pregnancy, which they refused.

Bryony said: "They didn't think she was alive anyway as they couldn't find a heartbeat. Nobody knew what was going to happen which was the worst thing and it was at that point I googled 22-23 weekers and all I got was stories of adults who needed 24/7 care and were wheelchair bound."

Dali-Gray Woodgates was only eight inches long when she was born

Dali was born in the amniotic sac on January 21, 2022 - more than three months early. "There must have been at least ten people in the room, they were all completely silent. It was a very grave situation, not like the happy occasion, 'congratulations she's here'. It was just silence and waiting to see if she was alive and what condition she was in," said Bryony, who also has a four-year-old son, Mercury.

"Then we heard the tiniest, tiniest little sound. It wasn't even a cry, more of a tiny squeak. It was like a film. Everyone just went nuts and they were 'she's alive, she's breathing, let's get her on the ventilator'.

"She was so tiny. I wasn't allowed to hold her because she was too fragile which was so painful. They held her in front of me for about five seconds, look this is your baby, and then they worked on getting her incubated.

"They put her in a sandwich bag because it was the only thing that would keep her warm because her skin was so delicate and see-through - you could see her heart beating - any fabric would stick to her. Her eyes were still fused together. They said the first 24 hours are really, really critical, so they took her to the neonatal intensive care unit."

Her first nappy was tiny

The chance of survival was put at just three percent. Bryony said: "When I saw her the next morning the journey we were just about to go through really started hitting me. I didn't know anyone who'd had a premature baby and I just thought she'll grow in the incubator.

"Seeing babies hooked up to so many machines, such a sterile environment and how many doctors and nurses it was taking to keep these babies alive, this was a really big thing. I remember peering into her incubator and she was the tiniest baby I'd ever seen. It didn't seem real. She didn't look like a baby. She looked like a tiny sparrow when they're first born, like a little alien."

The brutal reality hit home a few days later when other premature babies on the unit lost their fight for life. "Every time we left Dali we didn't know if we would see her again, she was so fragile and critical, but we had to go home for Mercury's sake. Every time I left her in the unit I cried and every time I left home I cried as I didn't want to leave Mercury. We were torn, we didn't know where to be or who to be with," she said.

Dali-Grey Woodgates

When Dali was three weeks old she contracted NEC (necrotising enterocolitis), a serious condition where tissue in the bowel becomes inflamed. Bryony said: "I was sleeping with my phone clutched to my chest with it on loud, so if they phoned me in the middle of the night, I'd know so we could get there really quickly.

"On Liam's birthday, on Valentine's Day, I woke up to my phone ringing at 6am and I knew something was wrong. This voice said 'I'm really sorry but Dali has taken this turn for the worse, you need to come in now'.

"I was in my pyjamas, we drove to the City Hospital in complete silence. We didn't know what we were walking into." Doctors explained that she would be transferred to the Queen's Medical Centre for emergency surgery for NEC and a perforated bowel.

"One of the consultants said the chances of her coming out of surgery are very slim and we hadn't even sat down and it was like bang... she's not going to survive again. Every minute she was deteriorating. Her organs started failing, her kidneys, lungs, her blood pressure was going down so her heart was failing. They were giving her more and more medication."

Surgeons removed around 20cms of her bowel and put a stoma in during the two-hour operation. During the 169 days she spent on the neonatal intensive care unit, there were numerous heart-stopping moments for her parents.

Dali-Grey Woodgates in the incubator and all the medical equipment which had to be transferred with her to the QMC

Dali needed further bowel surgery, had 30 blood transfusions, contracted sepsis several times and suffered two brain haemorrhages. She stopped breathing and turned blue - at one point this was happening 15 times an hour so she had to be put back on a ventilator. She finally came off the ventilator on her due date, May 19.

On June 27, Dali was finally allowed to go home. It was a joyful day but at the same time terrifying for her family to leave the sterile bubble where she had been constantly monitored for more than five months.

Bryony said: "All the doctors came round to say goodbye, everyone cried. Consultants, nurses, surgeons. Everyone came out into the corridor and clapped. It was such a huge moment after that long. These people are your family by that point.

"You have so much love for them and they loved Dali and they loved you. They have saved your baby's life on a daily basis and you are together for so long. It's a real mixed bag of emotions as you are so relieved to have your baby home but you know it's not the end of the road - it's just a milestone. The first couple of months were difficult and when you are so institutionalised from being in the unit for that long there's so much anxiety... I was terrified permanently.

The day Dali-Grey Woodgates left hospital with dad Liam and mum Bryony

"I'm not a worrier. Mercury was in the sandpit and eating worms and rolling around in the mud as a baby but I didn't want to put her in the garden as I was afraid of germs on the grass. Before she came home I bleached the house 30 times. We took it in shifts to watch her breathing."

Dad Liam, who also has an eight-year-old daughter Summer from a previous relationship, feared losing Bryony during labour because she was bleeding so heavily, as well as his daughter.

How Dali-Grey Woodgates has grown compared to the early photo with the rabbit

"For me it is only one year on that we are unpicking the trauma and the reality of everything we have been through. I am the eternal optimist and on the outside kept optimistic throughout. Naturally deep down though you do start to question everything and there were some pretty dark and lonely times. You have to be there for each other and we found laughter in the darkest of moments.

"I found Bryony's strength throughout a driving force for my own. Dali-Grey not only owes everything to the incredible teams at both City Hospital and Queen's but to her 'Mumma'."

Dali-Grey Woodgates is thriving

During the time he spent in hospital by Dali's side, Liam's business crumbled and the 38-year-old had to step back from vintage and antiques shop Hopkinson, in Nottingham, which he had run for 20 years. He is now selling at antique fairs and enjoying being a dad.

Anjum Deorukhkar, consultant neonatologist at Nottingham University Hospitals (NUH) NHS Trust, said: "Very few babies survive at that extremes of gestational age and amongst them even fewer when they need complex surgery and are complicated with difficult ongoing lung disease.

"Dali-Grey has really done very well considering all this and moreover her brain scans were reported to be normal too. Her development is now at par with expected for age.

"Dali-Grey is an excellent example of superb teamwork and dedication - credit should go to nurses, surgeons, dietician, anaesthetists, speech and language therapists, pharmacists, and so many more colleagues who have been involved in Dali-Grey's care."


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