BY TOBY PORTER
A “little miracle” born four months premature and so small she could fit in the palm of her mother’s hand has defied the odds and celebrated her first birthday.
Sanna Nieminen gave birth to Sayanna at her local hospital when she was 23 weeks and five days into her pregnancy.
She weighed just 1lb 6oz so was immediately transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit at Evelina London Children’s Hospital, where she received specialist care for four months.
Sanna, from Abbey Wood, said: “As soon as Sayanna was born we were told that she was very small and was unlikely to make it.
But when I saw her kicking I told the midwife to do everything she could to help her.
“Our local hospital didn’t have the facilities to care for such a premature baby so we were rushed to the specialist neonatal unit at Evelina London.
She was really sick in the beginning and I felt hopeless because there wasn’t much I could do for her.”
Sayanna spent a month on life support, suffered kidney failure, underwent an operation to repair a hernia and received 13 blood transfusions while at Evelina London.
Sanna, 38, said: “It was an emotional roller-coaster because one day she would be doing well, only to go down hill again the next.
I was so anxious all of the time and scared that she wasn’t going to make it. After a month I said ‘I need help’.”
Evelina London is one of a handful of hospitals across the country that has a dedicated clinical psychologist based in the neonatal unit, which meant Sanna was able to get the support she needed on the ward without being separated from her baby.
Dr Rebecca Chilvers, lead clinical psychologist in the neonatal unit at Evelina London, said: “Having a baby admitted to a neonatal unit can be a very stressful and challenging time for parents, who often feel shocked, frightened and experience a sense of helplessness and, at times, hopelessness.
“People often worry about upsetting their families and friends, but this can leave them having to manage their difficult feelings on their own.
Having someone to talk to who understands the neonatal unit can help reduce the immediate and long-term impact on their mental health and emotional well-being.”
Sanna attended weekly counselling sessions with Dr Chilvers and is encouraging other parents to talk about their experience of having a premature baby.
The mother-of-three said: “It’s completely normal not to feel normal in that situation and it takes strength to admit that you can’t do it all.
“Before meeting Rebecca I felt completely lost, but having someone there to confide in, who understood what I was going through and who didn’t judge me, meant I had one less thing to worry about.
She saved me in my lowest and weakest months and she saved my marriage.”
Sayanna is developing well and continues to be monitored by Evelina London every three months.
Sanna said: “It’s still a bit of a mystery about why she was born so early. She’s our little miracle, everybody is surprised at how well she is doing considering what she went through. Her sisters, Lola and Lilly, are very excited to have her home.
“We’re celebrating Sayanna’s first birthday at home with cake, which is very fitting as Evelina London is marking its 150th anniversary this year.
I’m so grateful to all the wonderful people at the hospital who helped to save her life and who supported me through such a difficult time.”
Dr Hammad Khan, a consultant neonatologist at Evelina London, said: “Sayanna was very poorly when she arrived on our unit and was one of the many, very small babies we have the privilege to look after on our specialist neonatal unit. It’s fantastic to see how well she is doing.
“Evelina London has changed the lives of children and young people for 150 years.
Our neonatal unit cares for more than 1,000 babies a year with complex and life-threatening conditions, we are proud to say we have excellent outcomes for the babies in our care and always look to have parents and families at the heart of that care.”
The hospital was founded in 1869 as Evelina Hospital for Sick Children by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild whose wife, Evelina, died in childbirth along with their baby.
For more information, visit www.evelinalondon.nhs.uk/150.