Baby Seth Dreyer of Worcester, Cape Town, was born extremely prematurely by emergency caesarean section at just 24 weeks and one day…

But today is a happy bouncing boy about to celebrate his first birthday. Born at a birth weight of only 380 grams — a little more than a can of soup — there were however deep concerns about whether the tiny little boy would survive.

“It’s by the grace of God and thanks to the wonderful medical and nursing teams at Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital in Cape Town who have cared for Seth that he survived and is growing into the cutest little angel for whom we have waited so long,” says Seth’s mother, Shadei Dreyer.

“From being born in a critical condition on 15 December last year, and after a long struggle over many months, to Seth reaching all of his developmental milestones and growing into our little miracle baby boy, he is truly our gift from God,” adds Ms Dreyer, who is now a mother of two.

“After going through the heartache of two miscarriages, my fiancé, Jean Lombard, and I both had mixed emotions when we got the news that I was pregnant again. We really wanted another baby, but were terrified that we would again lose the baby.

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“We have had a long and difficult road with Seth, who had to spend a total of 96 days in Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital, but are so grateful to have him home with us today and to now be preparing for his first birthday.”

“We have had a long and difficult road with Seth, who had to spend a total of 96 days in Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital”

Specialists in micro-premature babies

Dr Ricky Dippenaar, a neonatologist who practises at Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital, which is well known for the excellent outcomes it achieves with micro-premature babies, says that while baby Seth’s development will need to be closely monitored over the next 12 months, the team at the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit and maternity ward are overjoyed at the excellent progress he has made.

“Shadei was suffering from life-threatening preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication characterised by high blood pressure, and there was no choice but to deliver baby Seth 16 weeks before his due date, which is exceedingly premature,” adds Dr Dippenaar.

“Born before he was fully developed inside the womb and physically ready for birth, Seth was highly vulnerable. I remember that he was particularly unstable for the first 72 hours and we were most concerned about whether he would survive.”

“Nevertheless, Seth showed an extraordinary will to live and, supported by the highly specialised care of a multi-disciplinary team which included obstetricians, foetal assessment specialists, physicians, neonatologists, paediatricians and dedicated nursing staff at the hospital, Seth has overcome a number of healthcare challenges that are typical for such a premature baby.”

Modern life-saving medicine and technology

Dr Dippenaar says that modern medicine and technologies are making it increasingly feasible for specialised units with experienced specialists and nursing staff to not only keep micro-prem infants alive, but also to discharge them home to their parents in good health.

“It is, however, a long and often difficult journey for these micro-prem babies who typically have underdeveloped lungs and other organs, and can potentially suffer long-term neurodevelopmental problems. This is often an extraordinarily difficult time for the anxious parents, and it is also hard on the team, who are always doing all they can to get these precious babies home to their parents safely,” notes Dr Dippenaar.

15 million premature babies born every year

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 15 million infants worldwide are born prematurely every year, of whom one million tragically die due to complications.

15 million infants worldwide are born prematurely every year

Dr Dippenaar says the incidence of preterm birth is rapidly increasing both internationally and in South Africa, where an estimated one in seven babies is born prematurely today.

“There a number of reasons for this trend, including the fact that many women are having their first child at an older age, while some do not receive antenatal care early enough, some suffer from pre-eclampsia or other complications, or they may have had assisted fertilisation, which often results in multiple pregnancies and an increased risk of early birth.”

Dr Dippenaar explains that a healthy pregnancy is typically around 280 days or 40 weeks, while a preterm baby is classified as one who is delivered before 37 weeks. A micro-prem baby is one who is born between 22 and 28 weeks.

Ms Dreyer says that after Seth was born, she caught her first glimpse of him while the doctors were attending to him immediately after birth. “He was so, so tiny, all I could see was his legs kicking and moving. It was only after two days that I could see him as he was taken into the neonatal intensive care unit at the hospital directly after the birth. No words can describe the feelings I had.”

Two major scares

“During my stay in hospital we had two major scares. The first was when Dr Dippenaar informed me that they found that a foetal artery duct [ductus arteriosus] in Seth’s heart had not closed, as it typically would in a full-term baby. This was apparently due to his prematurity and they quickly performed a procedure to close the duct.

“The second was when I noticed something was not right with Seth: it was discovered that he had a groin hernia, another potential complication of prematurity, which was causing him excruciating pain. I was devastated to know that my baby was in so much pain and there was nothing I could do. However the team treated the hernia immediately after it was discovered.”

According to Ms Dreyer, she later felt stressed when she was due to be discharged from hospital. Living in Worcester, she was concerned she would not be able to afford to travel to Cape Town to see Seth every day.

“Thankfully between the nurses in the maternity ward, my gynaecologist, Dr Tania Victor, and counsellor Eldoret Sykes, they arranged for me to stay on in hospital for as long as I needed. That way I could still see my boy every day and express enough milk to stock up for when I needed to go back to work.

“My fiancé and I are so grateful that Seth was in the care of the wonderful team at Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital”

Grateful for the care and attention from hospital carers

“My fiancé and I are so grateful that Seth was in the care of the wonderful team at Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital. The nursing staff and doctors were all most supportive and kept us informed of Seth’s progress, as well as of the challenges he faced, every step of the way.

“We are also thankful to our community and church for the unbelievable support they showed us throughout our whole experience with Seth, but our greatest thanks goes to God for listening to our every prayer to keep Seth healthy and fighting every day while he was in hospital. It was during this time of need that we truly discovered that God is listening to us and only He is in control,” concludes Ms Dreyer.