Graphic: Baby Jenson born at 25 weeks and assisted by the Royal Flying Doctor Service

Brave baby Jenson wins fight for life, RFDS gets him home

Date published

11 Aug 2017

New mum Coby can't remember how many times her son went a shade of blue during the first weeks of his life. Jenson was born almost four months early and had to fight hard to survive.

"He was born at 25 weeks and weighed a small 762 grams. Because of his extreme prematurity his lungs were far from ready to breathe on their own, he spent about 14 weeks on breathing support. " Coby says.

"I don't think we heard him cry for weeks. That's the one thing you want to hear when your baby is born, but nothing about Jenson's birth was normal. When we eventually heard him cry, even if so soft and faint through the humidicrib, it was the best feeling.

"His eyes were also fused shut for seven days, so it was pretty amazing when they opened for the first time."

Baby Jenson during his hospital stay and being transported by the Royal Flying Doctor Service Flight Nurse

"During his journey, Jenson needed a course of steroids for 10 days to help his lungs, you could see he was just so tired, his lungs were working so hard they started to collapse, he just wasn't improving and was really struggling." Coby explains.

"After I was admitted, and before Jenson was born the Doctors had a chat to me about what it meant to have a baby at 25 weeks, what the birth would involve and what his chances of survival were. I was told he had about an 80 per cent chance of survival. That's an amazing statistic, but in the back of our minds we wondered 'what if he is part of that 20 per cent?'."

Coby and Dave, who live in Brisbane, couldn't believe the situation they were in.

"I was having a perfect pregnancy so never thought twice about going to Melbourne for a friend's hen's party and the Australian Open. After I arrived I started to feel unwell so my friend took me to the hospital."

After being told she couldn't go home and that it was likely she'd go into labour in the next week, Coby and Dave's world turned upside down. The plan was to rest and try to keep him in until at least 28 weeks. But that's not what happened.

Coby's contractions increased and her waters broke. She was going into labour.

"I thought it was a bad dream," she says. "It was way too early."

"Dave made it to Melbourne and arrived 20 minutes before Jenson was born."

Baby Jenson in hospital

After more than three months of overcoming many obstacles, Jenson was finally stable enough to go home to the Mater Mother's Hospital in Brisbane.

"We weren't sure how we were going to get home because Jenson needed to be medically transferred," Coby recalls.

"When I was told the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) could do it I felt relieved and knew we'd be in safe hands for our journey home."

Dave, Coby and Baby Jenson getting ready to go back to Brisbane with the RFDS

Before the RFDS' team collected Coby and Jenson, she got a cold and wasn't able to fly with her family.

"After everything we'd been through I didn't want to risk making Jenson sick. He has chronic lung disease and his lungs can't handle any extra stress," she says.

"Still, we met the team in Melbourne. Kate Dickinson was the Flight Nurse and Dave said he had nothing but a positive experience. Everyone was lovely and made sure he and Jenson were looked after the entire time."

Baby Jenson on the RFDS plane with Royal Flying Doctor Service Dubbo Flight Nurse Kate Dickinson

When the Brisbane-bound RFDS aircraft stopped for fuel in Dubbo, Jenson was given a special gift.

RFDS Operations Coordinator Kendall Graham, who was instrumental in the behind-the-scenes organisation of the transfer, gave Kate a handmade quilt and toy RFDS aircraft to give to Jenson and his parents.

"We have wonderful supporters who make children sized quilts and donate them to the RFDS to be gifted to our younger patients," says Kate.

"Each of them is unique, they are beautifully made and a lot of time and love goes into constructing them. The patients and their families love to receive them and they become a lasting memento of their time with the RFDS".

Coby says the gifts the RFDS gave her family are now a firm fixture in Jenson's bedroom.

"We couldn't have got home without the Flying Doctor. We can't say thank you enough and we appreciate the team being there for us when we needed them."

Even though Jenson is now doing well, readjusting to home life was slightly daunting for Coby and David.

The RFDS team in action

"Apart from not being home for nearly four months and re-adjusting to life outside the hospital, it was a little scary as in hospital, he'd been hooked up to monitors with 24 hour care. I often still wake in the middle of the night to make sure he is breathing.

"Jenson now weighs over five kilos. We have to be careful because of his chronic lung disease and we won't know if he's going to have other issues until he gets older. But at the moment he's thriving and doing so well."

To stay healthy, Jenson sees a dietician, occupational therapist, speech therapist and physiotherapist every month. He also has regular check-ups with his paediatrician.

By sharing her story, Coby hopes to raise awareness of the amazing work Neonatal Intensive Care Units and organisations like the Royal Flying Doctors do to help sick babies.

"It has been difficult but we have all come out of this stronger. We appreciate the support we've been given, and feel very lucky to live in a country where we have amazing hospitals, world class doctors and services like the RFDS."

Will you help keep the Flying Doctor flying so we can be there for more babies and families in need?

Baby Jenson with his RFDS plane

*The RFDS South Eastern Section wishes to thank Khan's IGA, the Humpty Dumpty Foundation, Silver City Bush Treadlers, UK friends of the Flying Doctor and anonymous donor for their financial support. That support helped us fund five neonatal transport incubators, including the one Jenson was transferred in.