A couple who lost one of their twin daughters at the start of this year are launching a fundraising campaign for the NICU units in Letterkenny University Hospital and the Coombe Hospital in Dublin.
Brian Gallagher and Thressa McConnell, who live in Letterkenny, had their whole lives turned upside down on January 3, 2020 when at 24 weeks Thressa unexpectedly went into labour, giving birth to twin girls, Ella who weighed just 1lb 4oz and Rose 1lb 9oz.
The girls were unable to breathe on their own and had to be transferred to the Coombe immediately, Ella by helicopter and Rose by ambulance.
As Thressa had a section she had to stay behind in Letterkenny until she was well enough to travel. Brian travelled to Dublin where the girls were both in incubators and on ventilators.
A few days after the birth doctors discovered Rose had a bleed on both sides of her brain. Her parents were told she would have some form of disability. Things went from bad to worse and Rose suffered further medical complications.
Rose passed away on January 14, just eleven days old. At the same time her sister Ella was fighting her own battle and after contracting sepsis she became very ill.
Ella also battled Cytomegalovirus (CMV), a virus that can cause hearing loss, ROP (retinopathy of prematurity) which required laser eye surgery on both eyes and PDA (patent ductus arteriosus) which required heart device closure surgery.
Ella spent 87 days in an incubator being ventilated and had numerous blood and platelet transfusions.
“Our little warrior got through it all and on the 5th of May after 122 days in NICU in the Coombe Ella got home at 5lbs 14oz,” said Thressa.
Ella is now doing well but they will have to wait until she is two before doctors can really assess her development. She continues to have check ups on her eyes, heart and lungs and has physio every month. She has a weak immune system which means she has to go straight to A & E if she has a high temperature as she can not fight an infection.
“It is normally two years before they can really judge how she is doing. They are happy with her eyes and her heart. She was 14 pounds last week and she is coming up on 11 months.”
Through all of this the pandemic was ongoing and made it even more difficult for the new parents.
“Because of Covid nobody was allowed in. It was a very isolating time for us as we didn’t know what we were going into everyday and things can change so quickly with a premature baby. It was so stressful, we didn’t have time to reflect on what was actually happening until we got home. Therefore I felt I had suffered from PTSD, so I started counselling with First Light, a free counselling service which supports suddenly bereaved parents and families, to help me through this,” said Thressa.
To raise awareness and to give thanks to all the medical staff at the two units Thressa and Brian are raising funds to purchase equipment for the unit at the Coombe and to make a donation to LUH.
“We want to raise funds for both hospitals to show our appreciation of the great work and support they provided our family during our difficult time. This was made all the more difficult with limited visitations due to Covid-19 but the staff made it that little bit easier with their kind and caring demeanour,” added Brian.
“We are going to walk/run 122km each (the number of days Ella was in the NICU) in the month of January starting on her birthday 3rd January, this works out as 4/5km a day.”
They will begin the journey in Donegal and finish in Dublin where Thressa is originally from.
Thressa said parents are not always leaving maternity wards in happy circumstances which can often be forgotten about. For this reason they began their online fundraising drive on World Prematurity Day on November 17.
If you would like to make a donation you can do so through the Go Fund Me site ‘Letterkenny and Coombe NICU fundraiser’.