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Wigton family receive life-saving care for premature twins

Mandy Marsden with twins Joshua and Darcy Photo: ITV Border

A family from Wigton are sharing their experience of the life-saving hospital care they received for their twins, who were born prematurely.

Mandy Marsden gave birth to Joshua and Darcy 23 weeks and 5 days into the pregnancy, weighing just over one pound each.

They were treated at the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) in Newcastle, which says changes to the way they treat premature babies have led to a dramatic increase in the number surviving the critical early stages of their lives.

The Special Care Baby Unit at the RVI is the specialist referral centre for the North East and Cumbria and sees some of the most critically ill babies from all over the Region.

Joshua and Darcy were treated at The Special Care Baby Unit at the RVI Credit: ITV Border

Mandy says the first three months after the twins were born were the most crucial:

Everybody kept saying it would be good if I could hold on to 24 weeks and that got said so much I thought, there's a reason for that, and I didn't realise it's because there isn't really a legal requirement to resuscitate babies before 24 weeks.

It was only really then that we started to come to terms with how extremely premature they were and that there was a possiblity that they would survive but just how slim that was.

I would say the first three months were touch and go all the time.

Each treatment to keep them going had its own risks. The longer a baby's on oxygen the more likely it's going to have long term lung issues. He will die if he doesn't get the operation, could die if he does get the operation. And every treatment was like this.

I had no idea that there were so many common problems for babies born this early to have and just how life threatening they all were."

– Mandy Marsden
Joshua and Darcy, now two and a half Credit: ITV Border

Now two and a half, Darcy and Joshua, survived against the odds.

The chances of survival for babies born at 23 weeks has remained at around 20 per cent for many years.

Whilst for those born at 24 weeks and above - the rates have been steadily rising.

Now, for the first time, the team at the RVI have seen an improvement in the chances for these tiny 23 week babies:

The support we've given breathing has changed subtly over time.

The fluids that we give babies, the nutrition, we're much better at looking out for infection and preventing infection.

They're all in little nests, so they're cosied up and they're in positions that are much more the position that they'd be in inutero.

And that gives them better posture, helps with their breathing, keeps their observations, their breathing, their heart rate, their oxygen requirement a bit more stable.

So there's lots of little things that, put together in a package, mean that over the last few years we've seen the survival of babies improve.

– DR RICHARD HEARN, CONSULTANT NEONATOLOGIST
An intensive care unit Credit: ITV Border

These tiny changes aim to help more babies live but also, crucially, to live well.

The ultimate challenge is to allow their brains to develop unhindered by the battles their bodies are fighting.

The story of being premature doesn't end when babies leave hospital:

We don't know the full extent as to how disabled Josh will be in his later life.

Which is a whole new challenge to kind of come to terms with when you have already been through such a trauma and you're still dealing with that a couple of years later.

How much you went through and nearly losing them so many times, to then have to try and come to terms with the idea that maybe they won't have a normal life at the end of it which seems so cruel, is a whole new challenge to take on.

It's a relief that maybe not everybody will go through the same journey that we went through and maybe come out of it with more positive outcomes. We were very very lucky and we were very much an exception to the rule, and maybe in the future 23 weekers won't be an exception and there'll be more of us around."

– Mandy Marsden
Premature baby treated on the Special Care Baby Unit Credit: ITV Border

Up to 1000 babies come to the Special Care Baby Unit here every year.

These changes in their care give all parents hope of a better future for their baby, taking a little bit of fear out of premature birth.