A Dundee mum whose baby weighed less than a bag of sugar when he was born 14 weeks early is fundraising for the lifesavers who helped care for them both.
Nicola Donnelly and husband Ross were stunned when she gave birth to 1lb 12oz Leo just 26 weeks into her pregnancy, while on a trip to London.
Three weeks later the pair were airlifted 500 miles home to Dundee by Lucy Air Ambulance, the only charity in the UK that flies children to hospital.
“It was a complete shock when I went into labour”, said Nicola.
“I was down visiting, thinking that that would be a good time to see my friend before my bump got too big and I was too uncomfortable. But the baby had other ideas.”
According to a study from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, survival rates for a 14-week premature baby are around 80%.
“We were living one day at a time”
The first-time parents were terrified for baby Leo, who is now four-years-old. Nicola added: “We were very much living a day at a time.”
While they knew a long hospital stay was ahead of them – at least until Nicola’s due date – the couple found the lack of support while in London increasingly hard.
She said: “We were fortunate in that my friend lives in London, so we were able to stay with her.
“We weren’t having to worry about finding accommodation and that sort of thing.
“But being away from home, being away from family and our support network, became more difficult as time went on.”
The hospital began to work out how to move the family from London back home to Dundee.
“Any transfers of more than three hours begins to be concerning for medical staff,” Nicola said.
“And London to Dundee is a bit further than that by ambulance. My little boy was three weeks old and we needed to get back to Dundee.
“We didn’t really know how that was going to happen – how do you get a baby 500 miles home in an incubator?”
Lucy Air Ambulance offers a lift home
A winged angel in the form of Lucy Air Ambulance signed up to take care of the family on their trip home.
The charity provides air transfer services for children in need of essential medical care.
The parents had mixed emotions about the journey, being grateful to head home, but “having to put an enormous amount of trust into these strangers” to look after their baby.
Nicola was scared things would go wrong, saying: “The actual transfer itself was very frightening to think about.
“We have this completely vulnerable child, who would be put on this tiny aeroplane in an incubator and looked after by a nurse and doctor who weren’t part of the team that had already been working with us.
“It was a lot to take in.”
However, the family made it back to Dundee safely to Ninewells hospital to continue little Leo’s care.
After learning that each transfer costs around £10,000, Nicola and Ross decided to fundraise for the charity not long after getting home.
They have kept in touch ever since and now Nicola has even joined the board of trustees.
On Sunday, Nicola will be running the London Landmarks half marathon to raise money for the charity again.
“It’s my first half marathon and I’m pretty nervous,” she said.
“I have done training and I feel pretty prepared but I know it’s going to be quite tough and I expect to be very sore afterwards!”
You can donate to Nicola and the Lucy Air Ambulance here.