Baby stroke survivor Donald is a little superhero

26/Aug/2022     Mater Group

When Queensland toddler Donald Dolan-Roth was just hours old he suffered a stroke which left his parents Olivia and Kyle Dolan-Roth fearing the worst.

“I had no idea babies could have a stroke while in the womb or soon after being born, and I wasn’t sure Donald was going to make it,” Mrs Dolan-Roth, 24, said.

The Ipswich couple are sharing their story in a bid to create awareness around perinatal strokes, which occur in 1 in 4000 live births.

Mrs Dolan-Roth said Donald’s stroke was “completely random” and likely caused by a blood clot.

“It was 24 hours after Donald was born at Mater Mothers’ Hospital in Brisbane that Kyle noticed he was having a seizure,” she said.

Mater Mothers’ Hospital Director of Neonatology Dr Pita Birch said perinatal strokes occur when blood supply to a section of the baby’s brain is blocked, leading to injury and permanent damage to that area of the brain.

“Most of the time this is a result of an event that blocks off the blood supply to a section of the brain, but it can also be as a result of bleeding into the brain,” Dr Birch said.

“This can occur in the womb, but usually we have no real way of telling when the brain injury occurred because the baby doesn’t often show any signs or symptoms until several hours later.

“It occurs shortly before labour, during labour or shortly after birth.”

Dr Birch said seizures were the most common sign of perinatal stroke, with some babies taking 12 to 24 hours to have them after birth.

“The injury to the brain can lead to cerebral palsy, however, unlike adults who have strokes, the brains of babies are still developing and have an element of plasticity,” he said.

“This means that they can use the other side or unaffected part of the brain to take over tasks so that the disability is minimised. Despite this, there are a large number of babies who have cerebral palsy and occasionally intellectual or behavioural disabilities. Epilepsy during childhood is also common.”

Cared for in the Mater Mothers’ Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for two weeks before going home, Donald, now 18 months old, is an older brother to three-week-old Herbert.

Mrs Dolan-Roth, of Silkstone, said Donald was a happy boy who loved trucks, cars, and, of course, superheroes.

“To us he’s our superhero,” Mrs Dolan-Roth said.

As a result of the stroke, Mrs Dolan-Roth said Donald suffered some setbacks, which delayed his learning how to crawl, walk and talk.

“Donald has been through a lot of physiotherapy and we are about to start speech therapy, but if you look at him you would have no idea he’s had a stroke,” she said.

“People are so shocked too because they don’t seem to understand that you can function after a stroke.”

Mrs Dolan-Roth said the around-the-clock care Donald received at Mater was “very reassuring”.

“We are so lucky Donald was born at Mater and in the right place when everything went pear-shaped,” she said.

“We are trying to stay on top of all this therapy as we know his brain needs to rewire after the stroke.”

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