BY TOBY PORTER
Doctors gave Sabina Checketts only a 50-50 chance of survival when she was born almost three months prematurely.
Her parents were also told that if she did survive, she would be left with multiple health problems.
Parents are now actively encouraged to touch and hold their premature babies – but when Sabina was born in 1986, her mother was not allowed to cuddle her for two weeks.
Premature babies were thought to have a better chance of survival if they were left alone. So her parents were only allowed to see her once a day and other relatives once a week.
But the young tot defied the sceptics.
And by the age of six, she had decided she wanted to become a doctor herself.
Now the 32-year-old from Forest Hill works in the neonatal intensive care unit at Evelina London Children’s Hospital.
She was born at 28 weeks, weighing just 2lbs 10oz – and was small enough to fit in the palm of her father’s hand.
Premature babies’ lungs are not yet mature enough without a tube and a breathing machine.
Her mother, Lynda Morris, recalls seeing her daughter turn blue during the traumatic first two weeks.
Lynda, now 72, said: “I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t sure how to sound the alarm so I just began screaming.
“The nurses rushed over and found that her tube had been dislodged and she wasn’t breathing properly. She was fitted with a new tube and quickly regained her colour, but it was a really scary experience.”
Sabina remained in hospital for more than three months and went home in February 1987.
Sabina said: “My school did some fundraising for our local neonatal unit, and because the school knew I was born there prematurely, I went along to visit. After walking on the ward and seeing all of the newborn babies in their cots, I came home and told my mum I wanted to be a doctor.
When I was young, we walked to school and we would sometimes see a neonatal consultant who was head of the team that treated me, walking towards the hospital.
“My mum would say to me ‘that’s the man that saved your life,’ and I was fascinated from such a young age.”
It wasn’t an easy route for Sabina to become a doctor, but her experiences as a baby in Norwich only made her more determined.
She said. “I did a three-year degree in biomedical sciences and a year working as a healthcare assistant, before embarking on my five-year medical degree.
“I knew I needed that human element that being a doctor would give me. Though it was a long and often difficult road, I felt like I wanted to give something back to the NHS that had saved my life.”
Having studied at Evelina London at various points throughout her medical degree, Sabina has worked as a doctor at the children’s hospital for a year.
“There’s a true team mentality here at Evelina London,” she said. “It feels like we’re all in it together and as a result we see some remarkable recoveries. Working for a hospital that has such a history is incredible and it’s extra special to be here as we celebrate Evelina London’s 150th anniversary.”
Sabina feels a particular bond with the babies she cares for that are born at 28 weeks, just like she was.
She said: “I was just like them all those years ago and now I’m helping to look after them. I feel like the NHS did me this huge favour and now I’m helping in my own way to pass that karma on.
“As a doctor, I’m interested in a lot of the technical aspects of my care, but having heard about the emotional side of things from my mum, it’s made me more empathetic to the needs of the parents and more aware of the rollercoaster of emotions that they go through during their stay.”
Seeing her daughter become a neonatal doctor has given Lynda an immense amount of pride. She said: “Sabina’s just absolutely determined. She’s living proof that premature babies are tough little human beings. I couldn’t be prouder of her achievements.”
Evelina London’s neonatal unit cares for more than 1,000 babies a year, and has some of the best survival rates in the UK.
Evelina London is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. The hospital was founded in 1869 as Evelina Hospital for Sick Children by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild, whose wife, Evelina, died along with their baby in childbirth.
To find out how Evelina London will be celebrating its special birthday, visit www.evelinalondon.nhs.uk/