A Wigan mum has described the overwhelming moment she held her “little miracle” niece for the first time after record-breaking surgery.
Born just 23 weeks into pregnancy, Abi Peters has made headlines across the globe having been the youngest in the world to have survived major surgery.
Already battling against the odds after being born weighing 1lb 5oz, Abi required an operation - just six days into her life - to correct a ruptured intestine.
She is now back at home with parents Louise and David in Surrey, thriving after passing her due date last month.
Annemarie Bell, whose husband Lynton is Louise’s brother, told the Observer they were able to hold Abi for the first time last week.
She said: “It was so emotional, we saw her after she was born when she weighed only a few pounds but we weren’t able to hold her as she was in an incubator. I was overwhelmed, it was remarkable for us to hold her for the first time.
It was remarkable for us to hold her for the first timeAnnemarie Bell
Annemarie and Lynton, both 36, live in Standish and were visiting Louise and David last year when the pregnant mum’s waters broke.
The mum of two said: “We are a really close-knit family and we always make sure we visit everyone during half-term weeks. We were down there in October, Louise was 23 weeks pregnant and there were no indications anything was wrong.
“We couldn’t believe it when her waters broke, I went with her to the hospital and our worst fears were confirmed.”
Abi was born four months early, a week before the legal cut-off time for abortions. The family were told to prepare for the worst, Annemarie said.
But with tiny Abi having made it through her first few days, there was worse news to come as doctors found she had suffered perforated necrotising enterocolitis, a condition often found in premature babies where tissue in the intestines is damaged and begins to die.
Louise and David opted to go ahead with surgery although they had been warned there could be as little as a 10 per cent chance of success.
The wait during the operation, performed by a 10-strong surgical team using specially adapted tiny equipment at St George’s Hospital in London, was an agonising one for all the family.
Annemarie said: “I remember Abi went into surgery about 1pm and it was three hours before we heard anything. It was truly awful, just waiting, hoping and praying that it was going to be positive news.
“Louise has put it down to all the hopes and prayers Abi received from around the world. We want to thank the doctors for their sheer tenacity in performing the operation, I’m not sure they even knew at the time about the record, that’s something that has been worked out in the months since.
“Louise’s attitude and strength was phenomenal, always focussed on what needed to be done and never downhearted or complaining. And her strength must have transferred across because Abi has obviously picked up her mum’s fighting spirit.”
Abi was allowed home last week and Annemarie said herself, Lynton, and their two children Joseph, five, and two-year-old Elizabeth get regular updates from Louise, David, Abi and their two-year-old, Tara.
She said: “We’ve got a whatsapp group and Louise is keeping us up to date every day with Abi’s progress. It’s been a traumatic time for the family but it has brought us even closer together, even though we were very close beforehand.”
Annemarie now hopes her niece’s ordeal may create a medical legacy as surgeons around the world may learn from the success of Abi’s operation.
She was the youngest to ever undergo surgery at St George’s and the youngest to survive such a major operation anywhere in the world.
It has also been reported that, at the time of the operation, Abi was smaller than the hand of consultant paediatric surgeon Zahid Mukhtar, who performed the lead role in the procedure.
Annemarie told the Observer: “She was always going to be special to us, of course. But she just feels doubly special to us now. She’s a little miracle.”