She spent the first three days of her life snuggled up in a small zip-lock bag. This was done to keep her fragile, paper-thin skin moisturised and intact and to maintain her body fluid levels. Apart from staying by her side around the clock, keeping her comfortable and monitoring her every breath, there was little else the staff at Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital could do to keep this precious baby safe.
Baby Allegra weighed only 515g at birth.
Born at 22 weeks and four days, little Allegra Lategan weighed a mere 515 grams, and that included the many tubes that were attached to her. Now approaching her forty-second day, well out of the woods and finally safe, doctors are sharing the news of this little medical miracle, a first of its kind in South Africa.
“Little Allegra was the first live child born to her parents, who were desperate for a child,” explains neonatologist Dr Ricky Dippenaar. Even though she was barely the size and length of a pen this was of little consequence. Our greatest concern was the fact that she was so underdeveloped as she was born just over half way through the natural gestation period. Generally babies born at less than 26 weeks are not considered viable.”
“In the next few days Allegra’s mother will be able to hold her for the very first time. Her drips have finally been removed and she is on eight millilitre feeds every two hours. There’s no denying, we’ve had a very interesting time since her birth. At one stage we had to open her abdomen to resolve a bowel obstruction,” said Dippenaar.
“By far the greatest challenge was the need to keep her body and skin fully hydrated. There are multiple layers to the human skin. However, in Allegra’s case the skin was still developing and it existed in literally one or two very fine layers that resembled tissue paper. Her skin was so fragile that movement against the ziplock plastic bag abraded her skin so that it bled.”
Keeping Baby Allegra alive
The turning point came when the team was kindly given a Giraffe Incubator on loan by Medhold. According to Dr Dippenaar the design of the Giraffe Incubator is unlike conventional incubators in that it creates a 100% humified environment, which is ideal for restoring the fluid equilibrium of a premature neonate.
“It is not just state-of-the-art equipment and expertise that are required in caring for children,” Dr Dippenaar explained in an interview. “Absolute vigilance and a great deal of time and dedicated care is needed. Our work is very labour and time intensive and there are days when the staff and I have to put our lives on hold. We nevertheless love what we do. Each patient is different and has special needs. In each case we have to adapt our approach to their needs. The team needs to be proactive and dedicated. It is challenging, fascinating and most rewarding work.”
While Dr Dippenaar and his team take enormous pleasure in their work and the results they produce, there are medical schemes that make it all possible by funding the care that is needed. Momentum Health, the Lategan’s medical scheme, took a broad view of the case given the sound results delivered by Dr Dippenaar and his team. After due consultation and a clinical investigation they opted to fund the treatment fully and the little baby was given a fighting chance to survive.
Dr Dippenaar and his multi-disciplinary neonatal team are known for their tenacity when it comes to caring for little patients whom many others have given up on. Perhaps it is because of the dedication they display to get each and every one of their diminutive patients well again that their success rate is so high.
Praise for the doctors involved
For Dr Dippenaar, who specialises in premature and very ill babies and works from Netcare Blaauwberg and N1 City Hospitals, in Cape Town patients become ‘his children’ when they are placed in his care. It is not uncommon for him to spend two or three days at the bedside of a sick patient in order to ensure that they recover from their ailments as best as possible.
The reputation of this facility and its doctors means that patients such as Baby Allegra will come from far and wide to access the services of the paediatric team at Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital.
Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital General Manager, Dirk Truter, said that Dr Dippenaar and his team are known for their determination to always “make a plan” when no one else seems to have one.
According to Truter, Dr Dippenaar and the team of paediatricians, paediatric surgeons and specialist nursing staff are also well known for their outstanding diagnostic abilities. “They will stop at nothing to get to the root of a problem,” he points out.
Dr Dippenaar says the team will never give up on any child, but will also not allow their little patients to suffer unnecessarily. He adds that parents also need support and encourages that parents are kept fully informed of exactly what is happening with their child and what procedures will be followed.
The Netcare Blaauwberg Hospital has a paediatrics ward, a maternity ward and a neonatal intensive care unit that ideally positions it to provide a comprehensive level of care to infants. The expert doctors and staff, who include specialist paediatric nursing practitioners, are able to effectively diagnose and treat children who are unwell.
(Press release, September 2011)
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