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Real Life

Kiwi family's little miracle: 'They told us our boy wouldn't make it'

Born at just 23 weeks, wee Kayden spent four months fighting for his life in hospital

By Sara Bunny
Like most doting parents, Alexandra and Lee Woodworth say bringing their two precious children into the world was a dream come true, but for the Auckland couple, it's been a particularly bumpy start to family life.
After their daughter Sylvie, now two, was born prematurely, Alexandra's second pregnancy was classed as high risk. But despite the nerves, she was determined to stay positive.
"I had a cervical stitch and I was optimistic that everything would go as planned the second time around," Alexandra tells Woman's Day. "Then my waters ruptured at just 21 weeks."
Due to the risk of infection, the 35-year-old was whisked into surgery to have the stitch removed, while doctors told her to prepare for the worst if she went into early labour.
"I cried my eyes out in that surgery room," recalls Alexandra. "As it was still quite early in the pregnancy, the doctors said my baby wasn't viable and they wouldn't intervene to save him. I saw the baby resuscitation machine wasn't even turned on."
Thankfully, labour didn't start straight away and Alexandra – who persuaded doctors to change the baby's due date after a scan revealed he was big for his age – stayed in hospital to rest. With labour stopping and starting, the terrified mum was determined to hold on to hope. Then her worst fears came true.
"Feeling pressure, I went to the bathroom to pee and I looked down to see my baby coming out," she remembers. "All I could do was put my hands out to catch him and hit the emergency bell. The room suddenly filled up with people. I could feel his heart pounding in my hands and that was when I knew he had a chance."
Baby Kayden was born at 22.1 weeks gestation and at just 565 grams, only slightly larger than a block of butter, and Alexandra believes changing his due date helped to save his life. He went on to spend a full 118 days in Auckland Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit.
"When I first saw him in the incubator, he was covered in tubes and machinery, and I couldn't believe how small he was," she shares. "I was asked to leave so they could do a sterile procedure and when
Lee arrived, I didn't know if the baby would still be alive by the time we went back together to see him. I couldn't name him, so Lee chose Kayden, which means 'fighter'."
For the mum-of-two, every day was a rollercoaster of emotions as she watched her baby fight for his life. "I felt like there nothing I could do and if I had a few quiet days, I constantly worried that bad news was lurking around the corner," she says.
"The lowest point was when Kayden failed his brain scan and we were told he could be severely disabled. After an agonising two weeks, he was scanned again and it showed he was fine – he was just catching up."
Struggling with the trauma, Alexandra started blogging about Kayden's journey and their story soon struck a chord with many Kiwi mums. "I had some lovely messages that definitely helped to make me stronger," she tells. "People even dropped off food for us."
For Alexandra, penning the blog at alexrose.co.nz was a way to process everything she was going through at the time and, looking back, she hopes it will also bring comfort to other families.
"When I was in hospital, I read all the hope stories I could get my hands on," she explains. "In telling my own story, I want that to bring hope to other parents in the same situation."
After her experience, Alexandra also knows first-hand how even a small gesture of kindness can make a big difference. She adds, "When someone has a sick child, it's common for people to say, 'I don't know what to say,' and while a struggling mother might say no to an offer of help, just do something, like drop off some baking. My family organised a cleaner for us, which was amazing, but every little gesture helps."
These days, Kayden is eight months old and thriving. He still has regular tests and physiotherapy sessions, and will be small for his age for at least a couple of years, but to his proud parents and big sister, he truly is a little fighter.
"Bringing him home after nearly four months in hospital was the best feeling," Alexandra smiles. "It's been a difficult and emotional journey, but we'll never forget how extremely lucky we are."

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