GRATEFUL parents are preparing to step out for the fifth year in a row to raise thousands of pounds for the specialist hospital team which saved their babies' lives. Neil Vowles and Siobhan Ryan speak to the families who owe everything to the Trevor Mann unit team.
HOPE Radford was the size of her mother's hand when she was born 17 weeks too early.
Weighing just 1lb 2oz, the tiny new arrival was facing the toughest possible start to life and her parents Colette and Michael were facing the very real possibility she would not make it.
The couple, from Mile Oak, had already lost four other babies during previous pregnancies and were desperate for their daughter to survive.
Hope was cared for in the Trevor Mann neonatal intensive care unit at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton.
Over the next three months staff battled to keep Hope alive, constantly monitoring her progress, treating an infection, putting her on ventilation when she had one of many medical crises and caring for her after she had stomach surgery at just 11 days old.
Against all the odds, Hope pulled through after spending three and half months on the unit and went on to spend time at the Royal Alexandra Children's Hospital in Brighton before finally being allowed home.
Mrs Radford, 38, said: “The time on the unit was absolutely terrifying. We were so scared.
“I still remember how amazing everyone on the unit was with her.
“The nurses, doctors, surgeons and consultants deserve a medal in my eyes.
“They never gave up on Hope, they tried everything even when she was really sick and numerous times we were called to the office saying she was critical and it wasn’t looking good.
“But with their expertise and care we finally got to bring her home and she is a healthy two year old now.
“Even now thinking back I have tears in my eyes at how lucky we were to have a unit like that on our doorstep.
“They basically made our dream of having a child come through.”
The Radfords are among scores of families taking part in the annual Push For Prems fundraising walk in Brighton, which raises money to buy specialist equipment for the unit.
This year organisers are hoping to break through the £20,000 barrier so they can buy a much needed monitoring machine that can detect bleeding on a newborn's brain.
They are urging as many people as possible to come along and take part.
Samantha van Galen, 34, from Upper Beeding, near Steyning, knows only too well the importance of such a machine.
Her son Francis was delivered at 28 weeks and staff discovered he had a bleed, meaning he got the treatment he needed for it very quickly.
Francis, born weighing 2lb 2oz, was in the unit for two months and his mum and dad, Martign say they are indebted to the team.
Mrs van Galen said: “He had to be ventilated a few times and he also developed pneumonia.
“It was obviously a really stressful time for us but the team were amazing - they saved his life during that time.”
Francis, who will be one year old later this month, is now thriving and his family and friends will be out in force to support the sponsored walk.
Samantha Lumley is also grateful for the work of specialist staff in saving her daughter Daisy who was born at just 26 weeks.
She was admitted to Royal Sussex County Hospital in October last year at 26 weeks pregnant after being told her pregnancy wouldn’t continue past a week and to prepare for a premature birth.
Tragically, Sam was diagnosed with cervical cancer during her admission, but brave little Daisy came into the world after just 27 weeks and three days and weighing just 2lb 2oz.
She contracted a bowel infection during her time in an incubator and had 10cm from the organ removed but seven months on her mother says she continues to grow stronger and stronger.
Sam said: “With endless support and advice from friends, family and the unit, we finally made it home on January 16 and I'm happy to say Daisy is now seven months and doing very well.”
Push for Prems organiser Catherine Demir’s son Ciwan was born at 24 weeks but is now a lively and active five year old.
Mrs Demir, from St Leonards, said: “He was resuscitated four times upon his arrival.
“He was ventilated for five weeks, in intensive care for six weeks and on oxygen for five months. He had pneumonia, infection after infection and I stopped counting when we got to 14 blood transfusions.
“While he was in hospital he had emergency eye surgery and a double hernia operation.
“When you have a baby born at this gestation the term 'roller-coaster of emotions doesn't come close, you learn what real fear is.
“He is my superstar and I will be forever grateful to the team at the unit. This is our way of saying thanks and we are hoping for an amazing turn out.
“We want to make this year the biggest and best yet.”
Tanya Sexton's daughter Charis is now a healthy 16-year-old who is planning to start college later this year after taking her GCSEs.
She was born 15 weeks premature at the unit in 1998 but has grown up to have no problems at all apart from an occasional minor bout of asthma.
Ms Sexton, from Whitehawk, Brighton, developed heart problems during the pregnancy and ended up having a transplant a few months after Charis' birth.
Mother and daughter are both still doing well and say they have a lot to thank the NHS for.
Ms Sexton said: “We were both in and out of hospital at that time and it was very difficult but we are both still here and that is down to the care and treatment we received.
“This is the first time we will be doing the Push for Prems walk as I hadn't heard about it before but we will both definitely be there.”
Consultant neonatologist Ryan Watkins said: “We are very grateful for the support of events like Push for Prems as it helps us buy the extra specialist equipment needed.”
The four mile sponsored walk will begin at the Royal Sussex in Eastern Road at 10am on Sunday June 29 and finish at Hove Lagoon.
To take part, just turn up on the day, message the team for a sponsorship form on their Facebook page ‘Push for Prems TMBU Fundraiser’ or donate directly at www.justgiving.com/PushForPrems2014.