Real Life

‘They told us he was going to die’

Born at just 765g, the odds weren’t in wee Jacob’s favour.

Just one day made the difference between tiny Jacob Angove living or dying. Delivered at just 23 weeks gestation, baby Jacob was born 24 hours too early for doctors to save his life. But with his parents desperate for their youngest son to be given a chance, doctors agreed to treat him – provided the baby cried after he was born.

One of the youngest premature babies to make it home from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Auckland Hospital, his parents Jess (31) and Jarrod Angove (33) were originally told their baby was going to die because he was too premature.

Known as micro-preemies, only 40% of children born at 23 weeks gestation survive and generally they need to be at least 24 weeks old before specialists will try to save them. “At Waitakere Hospital, they told us he was coming now, he wasn’t viable and he was going to die that day because he was so early,” Jess recalls. But the New Lynn couple, who have five older children Zoe (9), Ruby (8), Elijah (7), Joel (5) and Levi (3), wanted their son to have a chance.

As Christians, they both prayed for the doctors to change their minds and try to save him. “I was praying that the doctors would give him a chance,” says Jarrod. “Then suddenly everyone was back in the room saying, ‘Give Jess steroids now, we’re getting her to Auckland Hospital.’ We’ve heard that a charge nurse that assessed us specialised in premature babies and she thought the hospital needed to be given the opportunity to say yes or no,” Jess explains.

While Jess was being transferred to Auckland Hospital by ambulance, she says the possibility of doctors being able to save her baby was still bleak. “We were told they would assess him when he was born. They weren’t necessarily going to doing anything to intervene.” The only chance Jacob had was to show some signs of life. “We just started praying that he would cry – and he cried,” Jess smiles.

“We were desperate for him to survive but if he had died then we were prepared to accept that as an eventuality as well,” Jarrod adds. Fortunately, Jacob had some things on his side – he weighed 765g, which was a good size for his gestation, and he’d shown the signs of life that were required for him to be treated.

But even so, Jess and Jarrod spent the next week on tenterhooks, wondering if their baby would live or die. One of his biggest life-saving treatments was the regular blood transfusions he was given. Jess and Jarrod chose to tell Jacob’s story to the Weekly to raise awareness about the importance of “baby blood donors”.

“Jacob’s skin was so fragile that if he touched himself he bled,” Jess explains. “They would take blood every two hours to see how he was doing. He was so little he wasn’t able to replace that blood himself. “You could really notice the difference after just an hour from having it,” says Jarrod. “He wouldn’t have survived if it wasn’t for the transfusions.”

After almost four months in hospital, baby Jacob was allowed home on Christmas Eve. There is an 80% chance that Jacob (now eight months old) will have some disabilities from being born so early, and already the couple have noticed delays in his development. His vision is impaired and he hasn’t reached the same stages as a full-term baby would have.

“He can’t lie on his tummy and lift his head,” Jarrod says. “He’s on the cerebral palsy spectrum at the moment, but they haven’t said he’s got it. “ But both say they are prepared to accept any special needs that Jacob might have. “We knew the chance of him having a severe disability was high,” says Jess. “He’s our baby and we wanted him home.”

Between home schooling their five children and Jacob with his special needs, the couple have ruled out adding to their family – and Jess says Jacob makes their family complete. “Jacob is just delightful. He’s such a happy boy. He giggles and smiles, and his brothers and sisters love him.”

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