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Your LIFE: My 1lb baby was born ..thousands of miles from home.

Byline: BY JUSTINE MARKLEW

WHEN Nola Pearson went on holiday to Jamaica at five months' pregnant, she was looking forward to a bit of rest and relaxation before the baby arrived.

"Two weeks in the sun sounded fantastic," says Nola, 27, a council adminstrator, from Birmingham.

"My friend Sharmaine had suggested it and I knew she was right when she said I go on the holiday while I had the chance.

"The pregnancy had been a surprise and after a couple of months my boyfriend and I split up because things weren't working out between us - so a break was just what I needed.

"My baby was due in at the end of August, so I checked with my doctor that I was OK to fly and he said yes.

"For the first week we lounged by the pool, reading and swimming, and took walks along the beach," says Nola.

But during the second week, Sharmaine and Nola decided to visit a beach with spectacular views, white sand and crystal blue water on the other side of the island.

But paradise soon lost its attraction for Nola when she went into early labour.

"We travelled in a jeep and after about 20 minutes the vegetation got thicker and the roads got bumpier," Nola says.

"Apart from being a little uncomfortable I felt fine until we stopped for a break before we arrived at the beach. But when I went to the toilet I saw I was bleeding a lot.

"I burst into tears, petrified that I was losing my baby.

"I was rushed to the nearest doctors' surgery, where he did an ultrasound and told me my placenta had detached itself from the wall of my uterus."

The tour guide sped to the nearest hospital in Montego Bay, while Sharmaine tried to comfort a frantic Nola.

At the hospital another ultrasound showed everything was fine, but the next day Nola was in even more pain and went to a different hospital in the town.

Again, the doctors weren't sure what had happened. Nola says: "I was frustrated and frightened and just wanted to be home.

"But my doctor told me I was in very slow labour and it was best not to move me. I was disappointed, but the welfare of my baby was the only thing that mattered.

"I was given drugs to stop my contractions. The doctors wanted to stop the labour because my baby was so tiny it would've had no chance of survival if it was born so premature."

But just a week after being admitted to hospital, Nola's waters broke and within minutes tiny baby Neri was born - on May 1.

"It all happened so quickly," explains Nola. "Neri was so small I didn't even have to push."

Within minutes doctors wrapped her in a green surgical blanket and ran out of the delivery room. Nola didn't even catch a glimpse of her baby and they said she was very small - only 1lb 3oz.

She knew her baby wasn't in the best place for such a premature birth.

"There were no facilities or drugs at the hospital to treat Neri. Emergency supplies had to be flown in from Kingston," says Nola.

Neri was struggling to breathe but there was no spare ventilator for her and it was 24 hours before Nola finally saw her new daughter, fighting for life in an incubator. "Nothing could prepare me for how tiny she was. She could fit in the palm of my hand. Her skin was see-through, but I wasn't allowed to touch her for fear of passing on infections."

The medical team were astounded that Neri was managing to breathe alone as her lungs had barely developed.

After 24 hours mum and daughter, along with a team of medical staff, were airlifted to Miami where Neri was rushed to a specialist premature baby unit at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

"As Neri was taken away to the specialist ward, I collapsed in the entrance of the hospital," Nola says. "The strain had become too much for me to cope with.

"I was rushed off to intensive care too. It was another 24 hours before I recovered and saw Neri again. This time she was hooked up to monitors, a ventilator and she had tubes coming out of her arms, legs and head."

Neri's fight for life had only just begun and she underwent surgery on her stomach, eyes and heart. She had three bleeds on her brain and every day her tiny weak lungs collapsed. Neri was so premature that her body kept giving up. But skilful surgeons constantly brought her back to life. And when she got a perforated bowel it was a race against time to save her life.

Doctors removed her small and large intestine and left them outside her body.

Nola says: "At first it was horrendous to see Neri with all her insides balancing in a plastic bag on top of her tiny tummy. But doctors refused to replace them in case of infection."

After two weeks in Miami, Nola's mum, Sharon, 48, arrived. Nola says: "When Mum saw Neri for the first time she was close to tears and just kept saying, 'Oh Nola, that child is tiny!'

"I was exhausted, weepy and it was 12 weeks before I was even allowed to hold my baby. Every time doctors tried to take her of the ventilator she took a terrible turn.

"It was such a slow, painful time watching Neri constantly struggling to take another breath. Weeks passed by, but I barely ate or slept and I was always at Neri's

incubator holding her hand or talking to her." When Neri reached 16 weeks, doctors finally took her off the ventilator and she was able to breathe on her own for the first time.

"It was a step forward rather than back and within days doctors told us that Neri was ready to go home.

The following day, Nola and Neri were transported to Miami International airport and, along with two nurses and a doctor, mum and baby were flown to England by air ambulance.

"Ironically," remembers Nola, "we touched down at Birmingham airport on the day that Neri was originally due, on August 26."

But instead of going home Neri was taken straight to Birmingham Women's Hospital and spent two weeks there before being transferred to Birmingham Children's Hospital for an operation to replace her intestines.

At last, six months after her birth Nola finally got her wish and was able to bring baby Neri home.

Nola says: "I'm a very lucky mum and thankfully Neri is fighting fit now. I came so close to losing her so many times, I lost count.

"I'm so thankful I took out travel insurance because without that it would've been all over for Neri.

"She's still tiny, but she is a very strong baby and when she's big enough to understand I am going to take her back to Jamaica and Miami to meet all the special people that saved her life.

"It's all thanks to them that she is here with me now."

After 16 weeks my baby could finally breathe on her own

Neri could fit in the palm of my hand and her skin was seethrough

CAPTION(S):

TINY TOT: Neri was born weighing 1lb 3oz' Picture: NEVILLE WILLIAMS
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 20, 2007
Words:1227
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