Giving thanks for Royal Children's Hospital

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WHEN Peggy Piper arrived in the world, there was carefully planned chaos. Yet it was calm.

The tiny little girl, perfect but with medical complications, was rushed from her mother’s womb in the delivery room at the Royal Women’s Hospital to the Royal Children’s Hospital for stabilisation.

There were two teams ready for that to happen: those responsible for the caesarean delivery and the other to stabilise the child about to make her way into the world.

Peggy’s first minutes of life were clinical – and critical.

Her parents, Member for Bendigo East Jacinta Allan and husband Yorick Piper, were told at 12 weeks their little girl would be born with an exomphalos – which meant Peggy’s liver and a small amount of intestine were growing through the hole in her abdomen and into her umbilical cord.

After an orientation session at the RCH, pre-birth discussions with their surgeon and knowing they would be closely monitored, Jacinta and Yorick chose to remain positive and excited about a much-wanted pregnancy.

“There was a lot of anxiety but we were also enormously excited about the birth,’’ Jacinta said.

“We compartmentalised what was going to happen after the birth … and focused on the  excitement of the pregnancy.

“We knew that it could be rough, they did tell us there were risks, but we stayed optimistic and positive and were tremendously excited about it all.’’

Offering that comfort was the knowledge they were in the care of some of the best medical staff in the world through the Royal Children’s Hospital.

But while confident their little girl would be well cared for, nothing prepared the couple for the roller coaster that followed.

In a letter written to friends about Peggy’s arrival, Yorick spoke of the confronting events on the day of his daughter’s birth.

He wrote of watching a team tie off Peggy’s umbilical cord above the exomphalos, placing a sterile cover around it and giving her breathing support.

“Once she was stabilised and transferred into a NETS crib, Peggy and her Dad wheeled past Jacinta in recovery for a quick goodbye (so hard for her new mum) then made the short ambulance ride down to the children’s,’’ he wrote.

“Arriving in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit was extremely confronting - walking past rooms with babies in tiny cots and humidicribs, staff rushing around, machines bleeping and alarms going off.

“We arrived in Peggy’s room to have her unhooked from all the machinery in the NETS crib only to be hooked up to all the machinery surrounding her cot – respirator, cannulas in her arms and legs, heart, breathing, blood oxygen and temperature monitors.

“Soon after this the surgical team arrived to examine and dress her exomphalos.

“In the midst of all of this terrifying hustle and bustle, somehow directing all the doctors, surgeons and their teams, making sure that Peggy stayed as comfortable as possible, issuing orders to anyone who got in the way and managing to calmly let Peggy’s dad know what was happening, that it was all for Peggy’s wellbeing and that most importantly, everything would be OK, was Laura.

“Laura was Peggy’s Neonatal Intensive Care nurse, and for the balance of that 12 hour shift she was Peggy’s champion. She sourced the special dressings Peggy needed, administered her medicine, found a thin air mattress to make her more comfortable and constantly monitored Peggy’s vitals to make sure she was ok.’’

Laura was one of about 80 “wonderful, dedicated, specially trained nurses who looked after Peggy through those three months until her first operation’’.

Peggy spent 11 weeks in hospital after she was born and has since undergone further surgery and had several overnight stays.

On each occasion, Jacinta and Yorick have been overwhelmed by the level of care received by nursing staff. So much so, they established the Peggy Piper Trust, which aims to raise funds to support training for nurses in the Neonatal Intensive Care unit at the RCH.

The fund was the couple’s “very practical way to say thank you and show gratitude to the children’s, particularly the nursing staff’’.

“They looked after Peggy and us as her parents,’’ Jacinta said.

“There were many moments they provided great comfort to both of us … many moments where a few tears were shed along the way.’’

While Peggy still requires surgery for a heart condition in the next few years, her proud parents are thrilled with the progress of their little girl.

 “She is healthy and happy, she still has a couple of little wrinkles to iron out, but on the whole she is terrific,’’ Jacinta said.

“A rough start is a rough start, but she is terrific now.

“She is an incredible little girl, with a remarkable vocabulary.

“She is incredibly engaged with the world around her … loves animals and fish and her baby brother, Cormac.’’

Jacinta said the hospital’s follow up service brought peace of mind.

“It keeps tabs on the kids they’ve looked after which offers a remarkable level of comfort,’’ Jacinta said.

“We feel very blessed we’ve had along the way people dedicated to working in the public health system to care for sick babies and children.’’

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