Born at 23 weeks – survival is possible

Twin brothers Declan and Riley Colquhoun were born very early. At just 23 weeks and one day into her pregnancy their mother gave birth to them by caesarean section in Wellington.

Their eyes still fused shut, they were put straight on ventilators, with their mum Kathryn Hutchinson and her partner Chris Colquhoun not able to hold their little boys.

That was on 3 March this year.

Most mothers are a just a bit over the half way mark at this stage.

Twenty-three weeks is considered the edge of viability for premature babies. Those born earlier are not usually resuscitated.

Declan weighed 400g – a photo of him next to a pen shows just how tiny that is – while Riley was 530g.

Just over two weeks later on 17 March, Riley died.

The couple had a small funeral service for their 16-day-old son, days before the country went into lockdown.

Then at three weeks old, Declan opened his eyes for the first time.

During the nationwide coronavirus lockdown things got harder. Only mothers were allowed to visit their babies because of the Covid-19 risk.

Colquhoun would take Hutchinson to the hospital and wait outside in the carpark. He didn’t see Declan for six weeks.

“It was horrible,” Hutchinson says.

“He’d only just lost his son and his other son was fighting for his life and he couldn’t be there.”

Declan’s recovery has been a slow process. He had three surgical procedures within a week.

“He was extremely fragile,” Hutchinson says.

Eight months on, Declan has moved out of Wellington Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit. He is getting stronger every day and now weighs seven kilograms

About a month ago Declan was well enough to go outside for the first time. His parents took him for walks around the hospital grounds.

He has just been transferred out of intensive care to a special care baby unit at Hutt Hospital but still requires oxygen and a tube to feed.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Hutchinson says.

“Good things take time. His development is delayed but he’s smiling now and making quiet little noises.”

The couple also have a wedding to look forward to when Declan is well enough – Colquhoun proposed in September.

Declan’s survival defies the odds.

The Ministry of Health’s latest data shows that between 2013 and 2017, 237 babies with a gestation period of 22-23 weeks were born alive. Of those, 230 babies died.

However, President of the Paediatric Society, Nicola Austin knows of a baby who survived at 22 weeks and six days and of a baby weighing less than 400g who survived at 24 weeks.


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News category: New Zealand, Top Story.