Graphic: baby jenson
When Coby Foster set off for a long weekend in Melbourne to enjoy the Australian Open with her friends, little did she know it would be months until she returned home.
After going into labour at just 25 weeks, Coby remained in a Melbourne hospital for 101 days with baby Jenson before the RFDS (Queensland Section) could safely fly them back to a hospital in Brisbane.
Coby was partway through a problem-free pregnancy when she went to visit friends in Melbourne for the weekend.
She’d seen her obstetrician before the flight – mum and baby were doing well.
But on arrival in Melbourne, Coby became increasingly uncomfortable and knew something wasn't right.
“As the pain continued, I thought perhaps it was what everyone refers to as Braxton Hicks, but as it continued I knew I should get it checked out," she said.
"Being my first pregnancy, I really had no idea what was normal and what wasn’t, we were very naïve about the whole process.
“After a few hours of being in Melbourne I decided to err on the side of caution and go to the local hospital to get checked out.
“I honestly thought I'd go there, they’d tell me it was just Braxton Hicks and I would be fine to go to the tennis the next day.”
Once Coby arrived at the hospital, given she was only just 25 weeks pregnant they assessed her straight away and gave her Panadol to see if that helped with the pain, but it did nothing.
“Given the pain was increasing and becoming more regular, and the Panadol didn’t help, they took me up to the ward and did some internal examinations," she said.
"At that point it was still looking like it was nothing to worry about.
“As I'd had no complications and I’d only seen my doctor a few days earlier, I think the doctors were still thinking it was likely Braxton Hicks, or my body stretching, and were preparing to send me home.”
As a last precaution, Coby said the doctors did a swab test to see if she was likely to go into labour anytime soon.
“The doctors told me that they had thought the result was going to come back clear, but instead, it came back showing that I was likely going into imminent labour,” she said
“That is when the reality of the situation started to kick in and I had to make the call to my partner Dave to let him know that I wasn’t leaving Melbourne and our baby was boy was likely to be born anytime in the coming days."
Despite being far from home, Coby was relieved to be in Melbourne and in a fantastic hospital.
Just two weeks later she was meant to be travelling to Quilpie for work which is a small outback town in Queensland.
“It’s always at the back of my mind that if it had of happened in Quilpie things could have been very different,” she said.
“I would have needed to rely on the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
With Coby admitted late on the Friday night, by Saturday afternoon after numerous tests and examinations, the NICU team and pediatricians visited Coby.
Dave flew down on Sunday to be with her.
“The team had a very frank conversation with me about what it's like to have a baby at just 25-weeks, what the labour would be like, and the scariest thing being what our little boys chances of survival were,” she said.
“They advised that if they could prolong the labor as much as possible and get me to 28 weeks, that would be optimal for his survival and prognosis, as that’s when his lungs would be that little bit better.”
Come Sunday afternoon, Coby was being wheeled into the birthing suite, ready to have Jenson.
“At that point the reality of the situation became very real and I started to cry,” she said.
“I just kept thinking; please let my baby boy not be in the 20% that don't survive.”
Coby recalled when she saw Jenson for the first time, confronted with just how small and incredibly fragile a 25-week-old baby is.
“I remember the first time I saw him, it was surreal and incredibly scary,” she said.
“He was born naturally, and as soon as he was delivered, they took him over to a team of doctors to try and get him breathing and hooked up to life support.
"They placed him on my chest for about 10 seconds and then he was transported to the NICU to give him the best chance of survival possible.
“In that 10 seconds, it was horrible, it felt like a nightmare.
“He was translucent, incredibly small and fragile looking, and his head looked black and bruised, and like bubble wrap.”
Coby said the next 101 days were a rollercoaster of one step forward, two steps backwards.
“It was very confronting and incredibly scary, he was just so small and fragile,” she said.
“It wasn’t until day seven that we got our first hold.
I’ve never seen so many wires and tubes in a baby so small,” she said.
“He had multiple lines going into his stomach to give him nutrients, he had lines giving him antibiotics, a feeding tube, he was on life support and connected to all sorts of machines to monitor his breathing and heart rate.
"It was incredibly overwhelming.
“I remember clearly one particular day when he was just so unwell.
"He was on CPAP at the time and was deteriorating rapidly, he just looked so sick.
"At that point they made the decision to intubate him again, and for a period of time we weren’t allowed to touch or talk to him.
“They put a big cover over his humidity crib, he couldn’t have any stimulation; he was really unwell at that point.
“Generally, your oxygen should sit somewhere between 97 and one hundred percent.
"There were many times Jenson’s plummeted, the emergency button was pressed, and a team of Doctors rushed in to try and get him breathing again.
"I think the lowest Jenson’s dropped to was around 20, and to think that was still when he was hooked up to breathing support.
“There were lots of moments like that, you thought he was going okay and had turned a corner, and then you’d get a call during the night asking your permission to give him another blood transfusion or to do another chest X-ray or brain scan.
"It really was one step forward, two steps back. It was like a constant emotional rollercoaster.”
Coby said there was one question that stayed on their mind during their time in Melbourne, how were they going to get home to Brisbane.
Dave did 29 flights between Melbourne and Brisbane during the time Coby remained in Melbourne with Jenson.
Coby said the doctors advised them that returning to Brisbane wouldn’t be possible on a commercial flight, as a team of doctors would be needed to accompany Jenson, meaning it would have to be a medical transfer.
“I think ultimately the team of doctors reached out to the Royal Flying Doctor Service to see if they could assist with transporting Jenson home to a hospital in Brisbane when he was stable enough," she said.
"Amazingly, they were able to do the transfer.
“I still remember the day when one of the paediatricians came and sat next to me and said ‘I’ve got great news, the Royal Flying Doctor Service are able to fly Jenson home."
“In that moment there were so many emotions. It was the best day.”
Coby said while she was so excited knowing they were able to get home, it also came the anxiety of wondering what if something happened during the flight.
“It was a time of excitement and happiness, but it was also really daunting," she said.
The one comfort I had was knowing that Jenson was going to be looked after by the Flying Doctors.
“He was going to be accompanied by trained medial staff, and on a plane with all of the equipment needed to deal with any situation.
"Knowing that, and that Dave would be with him too, was incredibly comforting at that time.
“If I had gone into labour out past Quilpie where I was meant to be, the only way he probably would've survived would have been because of the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
“When you are kilometers away from a hospital even, you rely on the Flying Doctor to come and help.”
Coby said without the RFDS, they wouldn’t have been able to get home.
“We can't say thank you enough," she said.
"We wouldn't have been able to get home without the Royal Flying Doctor Service coming being willing to help us safely transport Jenson home.
“The Royal Flying Doctors provide a vital service in Australia, especially to those living in rural and remote areas.
"It is so important to support them, and to donate any amount you can to ensure the Royal Flying Doctors can continue to operate, and provide what is really a lifeline for those that live, work or are travelling in these remote locations.
“Even if you live in a big city, you just never know when you, or one of your friends or family may be faced with the situation of needing medical support, but not being anywhere near a hospital.
"Australia is such a vast country, and we need the Flying Doctors to ensure that everyone has access to medical support when they need it.
"Please support the Flying Doctors so that this critical and life saving work can continue.”
Coby said Jenson is doing really well now as an active and healthy six-year-old.
“Six years on, I still check that Jenson is breathing every night before I go to sleep," she said.
"We’ll be forever grateful to all the doctors and nurses for saving Jenson’s life, and the Flying Doctors for taking us home.
“Jenson is doing amazing, and are so lucky given everything he went through, he’s our little miracle.
"A beautiful little happy boy that has the world at his feet."