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Ralphie was born 3 weeks premature. After what can only be described as a horrendous pregnancy for my wife Sarah and I, our little fellow was finally here. During pregnancy my wife sufferedbleeds, some small, some heavy, which resulted in us visiting the Antenatal Assessment clinic. I recall a week when we were at the assessment unit 3 times. Sarah was scanned, and on all occasions we were told Ralphie was growing as he should be. At 35 weeks Sarah experienced reduced movements, and again we had visited the assessment unit . Sarah was strapped up on machines and we were told Ralphie was fine. We had a follow up appointment a few days later to discuss our issues with the reduced movements. It was at this appointment we were told Sarah was to be induced straight away. Sarah was induced at 4pm Monday afternoon and Ralphie was born early Tuesday morning.

Shortly after birth we noticed Ralphie making a grunting noise whilst breathing. Doctors suspected a chest infection and Ralphie was given a course of antibiotics. After a period on the labour unit, Sarah and Ralphie were transferred to the postnatal ward. The grunting didn’t seem to be subsiding and Ralphie was examined by doctors and blood tests were taken.

Oxygen levels in Ralphie’s blood and doctors discovered a  heart murmur. There was concern over a lack of pulse in his groin area, we were informed the best care for Ralphie would now be in the NICU. We were absolutely distraught.

Ralphie was taken by incubator to the Intensive Care Room.  I have been in NICU to visit nephew 5 years earlier, but this was different. The moment I saw Ralphie lying in an incubator, in a dark room machines making bleeping is a moment I will never forget. Ralphie was still receiving antibiotics and as he was struggling to breathe properly, he was put on oxygen.

As doctors couldn’t find a pulse in Ralphie’s groin they conducted a heart echo. After the scan we were told Ralphie had a hole in his heart and the valve which is meant to close within the first moments after birth had not done, this is known as PDA (Patent Ductus Arteriosus). I was trying to console my wife, but I myself was struggling. I wasn’t afraid to show any emotion and Sarah and I cried for hours. Our poor little boy who had no idea what was going on and was so innocent, had a heart problem and we were scared.

Ralphie’s breathing wasn’t improving, he was working really hard to breathe by himself. It was decided he would be ventilated. For Sarah and I, this was the most traumatic time of our stay in NICU. Ralphie was given morphine to keep him sedated, and although he had a big tube leading down his throat, he looked so peaceful. Leaving Sarah alone that night in the unit was so hard to deal with because I knew the pain she was feeling and I honestly don’t know how I made it home without crashing the car.

Over the next 3 days more heart echos and examinations were conducted and conversations were held with Manchester Children’s Hospital to see if Ralphie had to be transferred there. It was decided it would be best for Ralphie and ourselves to be kept in Oldham NICU.  Ralphie started to show signs of improvement and the ventilator was turned down gradually. Ralphie began to breathe more on his own.. His improvements showed us there was a possible light at the end of the tunnel.

Ralphie took us by amazement and after 3 days, was taken off the ventilator, they stopped the morphine so he was much more alert and awake. We were able to hold and cuddle him and try him with a feed. The feeling of holding him again in our arms brought tears joy!

Ralphie’s was moved to the special care nursery. Not so intense and he was able to sleep in a cot, and we could dress him and cuddle him more often. He suffered from jaundice so he was kept under a blue light for a short period whilst still on antibiotics for his chest infection.

 Sarah and I felt upbeat. We could see our small boy improving day by day, Sarah was rooming in at the hospital to sleep in and there was talks of Ralphie going home within the next few days, is was music to our ears.

After what felt like a lifetime, Ralphie was discharged. A day Sarah and I thought would never come. Ralphie had his first bath and then we could go home. We had our picture taken in front of the Spoons Going Home Wall, it was overwhelming to say the least. We finally had our baby boy all by ourselves in our own home.

My advice to any parent who has a baby on NICU, is don’t be afraid to ask too many questions. Whatever time of day, whether you think the question is stupid, just ask. Nurses and doctors are there to help your child, but also have a duty of care for us parents too. I personally found talking to other parents about my own issues and vice versa very helpful. In the parents room getting a brew or sat next to your child’s bed, talking helps. Also I feel as men, we feel we have to hide our emotions in front of the people we love. We feel we need to be brave and strong for the people around us, but we are human and have feelings too. Let it all out, embrace other people’s stories and confide in them.

Our little boy is doing amazing, his PDA is fully fixed (by itself) and the hole in his heart is reducing and is causing no issues whatsoever. Every appointment we attend, doctors are thoroughly happy with how Ralphie is getting on.

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