Galway miracle tot stars in charity calendar

Little Jack Sheil

Little Jack Sheil

A Galway toddler who was born weighing only 1.5lb has been chosen to feature in a charity calendar which is aiming to raise €40,000 to support premature babies and their parents.

Jack Sheil from Loughrea arrived into the world on June 24, 2013, some 15 weeks early and weighed less than a standard bag of sugar. Jack’s mother Hilary Stanton had planned for his birth to take place at Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe, but health complications meant she was urgently transferred to The Coombe hospital in Dublin, and less than two days later underwent an emergency caesarean section.

Following the unexpected birth, Ms Staunton and her partner John Sheil kept a bedside vigil for seven months at the hospital’s neonatal unit. Despite coming close to death on more than one occasion, Jack is now happy and healthy and is also a big brother to the newest addition to the family, baby James. Hilary Stanton says it is an experience she will never forget “When I was transferred to Dublin, the hospital placed a line into my artery so they could monitor my blood pressure. At one point, Jack’s heart rate dipped and within minutes it was decided to deliver him. In Jack’s first 10 days, he had a hole in his heart which thankfully was treatable with medication, a perforated bowel which the team at Crumlin had to attend to, and then a clot on his lung which nearly killed him.’’

Following those excruciating days immediately after the birth, the baby’s health improved until four weeks later when he suffered yet another setback. Jack was diagnosed with a serious bowel condition which put extra pressure on his already fragile lungs and he had to go back on a ventilator. The baby was also diagnosed with pneumonia during this traumatic time. However the miracle child recovered again and at the time of his actual due date was getting ready to return home to Galway with his parents.

But fate intervened again and the tot suffered a lung illness which lasted a number of weeks and a decision was taken to return him to a ventilator. Hilary Stanton says this was something that she knew was necessary but still found very hard to watch. “It was decided that it would be in his best interests to re-ventilate him as he just couldn't manage on his own any longer. Although I was forewarned, nothing could have prepared me for how distressed Jack would be upon re-ventilation, the distress in his eyes just undid me. At one point he was so unwell that the staff told me to ring my partner John to tell him to come to the hospital straight away. We even had him baptised.’’

Incredibly, 10 long days after re-ventilation Jack Sheil turned a corner and, on December 13 last year, he was taken off the ventilator again and has not looked back since. He was discharged from hospital on oxygen on January 23 and three months later was completely off his oxygen and breathing by himself with no support.

Hilary Stanton says the whole experience was extremely traumatic and that while she was lucky enough to have a sister she could stay with in Dublin while travelling to and from Jack’s bedside in The Coombe hospital, there are many people who do not have that type of support network in a situation like that. “Being in Dublin for seven months was a huge emotional and financial strain. I really feel for parents who are not from Dublin and who don’t have the family support we had. John had to go back to work and, while he was always on the end of the phone, it wasn’t the same as having him with us. You are very much a single parent up there which means you can be vulnerable.”

More than 1,000 infants a year spend their first days in The Coombe’s neonatal unit and it is hoped that the funds raised by the sale of the €10 calendar will assist in making the time that parents are at the unit more comfortable. The calendar is available at a number of outlets in Loughrea and can also be purchased directly from Friends of The Coombe by visiting www.friendsofthecoombe.ie, [email protected] or phoning 01 408 5539.

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