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1lb2oz baby Ella celebrates her first birthday with NICU fundraiser

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AT JUST 26 weeks gestation Ella Blenerhassett was the smallest baby born at UMHL last year, weighing in at a tiny 506grams or 1lb2oz.

Though you wouldn’t know it to look at her now, Ella had a tough ride to make it to her first birthday.

Her parents, Mark and Lisa Blenerhassett, nearly lost Ella when she was 16 days old.

They got a phone call at 5:30am from the neonatal team urging them to come in straight away as Ella had stopped breathing and her heart rate was dropping. After 15 minutes of CPR and five shots of adrenaline, she came round.

Ella Blennerhassett was just 506grams when she was born

Mark, who works as a psychiatric nurse at Ennis General Hospital, spoke to The Clare Echo about his daughter’s fight for survival.

“When Ella was born, we were told her chance of survival was 50/50. The first 24 hours, then the next 48, then 72 hours and the first week were all huge hurdles for her. After that the main objective was to avoid infection and make her grow. She spent the first seven weeks of her life on life support and every day was such a rollercoaster,” Mark said.

Such was her critical state at the beginning, her parents were advised to have her baptized.  During her time in hospital she battled two serious lung infections with countless drops in saturations and heart rate levels, low sodium levels, an open heart vessel which had to be treated medically, four blood transfusions, low sugar levels, an abscess on her thigh after Men B vaccine and retinopathy of prematurity in her eyes which resulted in a trip to Dublin by ambulance. 

She got another setback after her four month vaccines and had to go back into the incubator on oxygen for 24 hours. She had numerous x-rays, often in one day and several over the weeks, more IV and cannula lines than can be counted, brain ultrasounds, morphine sedation, countless antibiotics and she was tube fed continuously for her first 12 weeks.

Ella began her life on a life support machine for seven weeks, then on CPAP, hi flow and intermittent oxygen before being finally able to breathe on her own after three and a half months.

“Every day we walked through those double doors, we didn’t know what was facing us or what the doctor was going to tell us that day.  The night she had to be resuscitated was the lowest point.  When we arrived she had thankfully come round, with a whole team of nurses and doctors around her. She was critically sick for quite a while but thankfully as time wore on and with weight gain, she was able to handle and tolerate things better.  

“Now she weighs 16 pounds and is full of mischief. She is crawling and brings so much joy to everybody.  She is followed up closely by dietitians, physios, speech and language therapist, consultants and opthamologists but takes everything in her stride,” Mark added.

Lisa, Ella and Mark Blennerhassett

To celebrate Ella’s first birthday and the amazing milestones she has reached, Mark and Lisa have set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at University Maternity Hospital Limerick.

“The NICU became our home away from home and what work these people do on a daily basis is nothing short of incredible.  The staff were always ready to offer much needed reassurance, positivity, arm around the shoulder, a cup of tea, tissues to dry the tears, laughter, personal experiences and stories, explanations numerous times to help make sense of everything and the utmost care and love for the babies.   

“Whatever amount raised will go towards much needed resources for the babies and their parents during one of the most stressful and emotional times in their lives.  We are forever indebted to all the staff in Neo in UMH Limerick for saving our girls life and would like to give back something in return for Ella’s first birthday,” Mark said.

To donate to this amazing cause, visit the GoFundMe page here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/ellas-1st-birthday-fundraiser?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_campaign=m_pd+share-sheet

Elaine has been a member of staff with The Clare Echo since its foundation in October 2017. The paper's first Chief Reporter, the Kilrush woman is now working as a sub-editor in our busy newsroom. In 2015, she graduated from the University of Limerick with a Masters in Journalism. Elaine briefly worked with the RTE Investigations Unit on the Standards in Public Office investigation before returning to Clare to continue her career as a reporter with the Clare People where she spent nine months as the West Clare correspondent and also covered the 2016 General Election and 2016 Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann.

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