When baby Ignus, nicknamed SA’s “miracle baby”, was born on 15 April 2021, his mother Nadia Greyling was not prepared for what was about to happen.
Shortly after his birth, the medical staff at the Netcare Clinton Hospital in Alberton noticed that there was something wrong with his breathing. He was immediately moved to the neonatal care facility, and his mother was unable to hold him.
“The first cry of your newborn baby is the most beautiful sound ever. My husband and I nodded at each other. We had no idea of what was waiting for us,” Nadia recalls.
“After his birth, the little baby was blue because he wasn’t getting enough oxygen. We were so worried about him,” shared nurse Zinhle Moyo.
Tests would later show that SA’s miracle baby had what is called a congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH).
“Inside my baby’s body, there was a large hole in the muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen, allowing his abdominal organs to push through the muscle and compress his lungs,” Nadia explains.
Ignus’ first lifeline was a ventilator to help him breathe. When that did not work, an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) life support option was chosen instead.
Dr Ashley Jeevarathnum, a paediatric pulmonologist, explained that “the pressures in his lung were exceptionally high, a condition known as pulmonary hypertension, and all life and respiratory support measures had failed”.
This is why the medical staff opted for the ECMO, which has never been successfully completed on a neonate before in SA, until Ignus.
The procedure had not been done before because it is highly complex.
“ECMO for a neonate with CDH is internationally known to be notoriously difficult, however, it was the best option available to support his vital functions and get him well enough for surgery,” Jeevarathnum said.
The procedure is so complex that it required 10 doctors on his medical team, including a paediatric intensivist, paediatric cardiothoracic surgeon, paediatric nephrologist, paediatric surgeon and the paediatric anaesthetic team. The team also had amazing nurses who, although were overwhelmed by this new and unfamiliar procedure, provided the best possible care for Ignus.
ECMO is a highly specialised process where a machine artificially performs the functions of the heart and lungs, 24 hours a day.
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Ignus was on ECMO life support for 12 days
After almost two weeks on the ECMO, the specialists agreed that SA’s miracle baby was in a better condition for the surgery to repair the hole in his diaphragm that would keep his abdominal organs, including his intestines, liver and spleen in their correct anatomical position, to relieve the pressure on his lungs.
It was an anxiety-filling time for Nadia and her partner, but finally – six weeks after her son’s birth – she was able to hold him for the first time.
Ignus’ parents thanked all the specialists, in particular Dr Jeevarathnum – who stayed by SA’s miracle baby’s side often until the early hours of the morning – as well as the entire team of medical professionals, nurses and staff at Netcare Clinton Hospital.
“Ignus’ story has raised the bar for South African neonatal care, showing that we can reach international standards of medical care for our children and achieve good outcomes even for highly compromised babies,” said Dr Jeevarathnum.