Feature: Superhero staff made and saved our little fighters’ lives

Austin and Rory
Austin and Rory

Thankful family taking part in walk to raise vital cash for Sheffield hospitals services

Austin left mummy’s tummy first at 10.24am.

Austin and Rory on their first birthday

Austin and Rory on their first birthday

‘I was born at 10.48am, 24 minutes later. They took me away in a plastic bag which kept me nice and warm.

‘Mummy had to go to sleep for an operation. Daddy looked very scared.’

It’s been one year since new mum Kelly Hardy wrote those words, in the first entry of her blog, named for her then day-old sons - Austin and Rory - born extremely premature in Sheffield at just 26 weeks.

But the 28-year-old can still remember every detail of that time.

Austin and Rory - first cuddle with mum Kelly

Austin and Rory - first cuddle with mum Kelly

“It took us the best part of five years to get our beautiful little boys,” recalls the South Yorkshire mum.

“We tried Intrauterine insemination which was unsuccessful and then embraced IVF. Our fifth and final embryo was successful, and six weeks later it was confirmed that we were pregnant with twins.

“As we had suffered previous miscarriages, we daren’t get too excited, but the pregnancy progressed well, albeit with many complications.

“I spent the majority of my first trimester, and some of my second, in hospital due to severe morning sickness. I only managed two or three days at home between admissions as I just couldn’t keep anything down. I lost so much weight that by the time I gave birth I was wearing non-maternity clothes a dress size smaller than before I got pregnant.

Austin and Rory on their first birthday

Austin and Rory on their first birthday

“The twins started to show signs of labour at just 26 weeks, and two days later my waters broke. When Austin was born at Jessops there were about 20 people in the room. Rory arrived 24 minutes later. I was put to sleep for an operation straight after, leaving my husband, Ashley, terrified for the health of us all.

“Both boys were ventilated, in an incubator fighting for their lives. They each weighed less than a kilogram. I can’t explain how small they were.

“Dr Simon Clarke - who was my absolute rock during the first weeks - visited me as I was coming round from my anaesthetic and explained how poorly the boys were and what the reality was for babies so extremely premature, especially twins. The odds were against them.

“We never expected to bring them home.”

Daddy Ashley with twins

Daddy Ashley with twins

But after 99 days fighting for their lives in NICU at the Jessop Wing, Austin and Rory were well enough to be transferred back to their local Barnsley Hospital. After a few more weeks, they were allowed home for the first time. But the battle didn’t end there.

“I think people often think that once you’re discharged, you go on to live a normal life, but premature babies often carry the scars of prematurity with them,” says Kelly.

“We managed just three weeks at home when Rory’s windpipe collapsed as a result of multiple ventilations in NICU and he now has a tracheostomy. We have spent the majority of their first year in hospital or indoors hiding from germs.”

But there was much reason to celebrate this year as the boys celebrated their first birthdays - a landmark they were never expected to reach.

“I have so much respect for the team at Jessop Wing, they were like another family,” Kelly adds.

“I think about them almost daily. The boys were conceived by IVF with the help of specialists at the Jessop Wing, and they were saved by the superhero doctors and nurses there. There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for them - I owe my happiness to them.”

And now Kelly and her family are looking to give something back, taking part in this year’s fourth annual Jessops Superheroes event, hosted by Sheffield Hospitals Charity, to raise funds for the hospital that helped make them a family.

Jessops Superheroes is a sponsored 2.5k or 4k family walk, buggy push, toddle or trike to help raise funds for the city’s tiniest patients. This year’s event will take place at 10,30am on Sunday, May 21, at Graves Park.

Around 8,000 babies are born each year at the Jessop Wing, which includes caring for around 900 critically ill and premature babies in one of the largest and most specialised Neonatal Intensive Care Units in the country.

“So far we have raised almost £1,000 – which has exceeded our expectations,” says Kelly.

“I think we’ve smashed out target due to my blog, which I set up on the day of the boys’ birth.

“I have had so many lovely messages of thanks from other IVF warriors, preemie parents and tracheostomy superheroes, who have found the blog really helpful.

“There are some things that it was easier to write down than to say out loud. It also means that my boys will have something to look back on when they are bigger.

“With the boys turning one this week, my husband and I sat down together to read back over some of the early entries this week, just to summarise the year. It was very emotional.”

And after a difficult start, and a first year filled with emotional highs and plenty of challenges, the main thing the Hardy family has learned is not to take anything for granted.

“Every day is a new challenge and we don’t take for granted that the boys will be well,” Kelly says.

“Unfortunately Rory fell unwell in the afternoon of the boys’ birthday and we ended up visiting the hospital the next day to check he doesn’t need any breathing support or different medications. We have been in a worse place though and we have survived it, so I know we can manage whatever else is thrown at us.”

Visit Sheffield Hospital Charity to sign up, and Kelly’s Blog - Austin and Rory to read Kelly’s blog.