Mater surgeons perform life-saving surgery on six-day-old Noah

18/Nov/2022     Mater Mothers' Private Brisbane

Queensland surgeons have saved the life of premature baby boy Noah O’Brien after successfully performing emergency surgery on his tiny body when his bowel perforated at less than one week old.

First-time Brisbane parents Geordie and Michael O’Brien’s “miracle baby” Noah was born at 28 weeks gestation, weighing just 859grams at Mater Mother’s Hospital.

After Noah’s bowel perforated at six days of age, a specially trained team of neonatologists, paediatricians, surgeons, and nurses rapidly responded to perform bowel surgery on baby Noah.

Professor Roy Kimble, a neonatal and paediatric surgeon at Mater Mothers’ Hospital and Director of Paediatric Surgery at Queensland Children’s Hospital, performed a complex three-hour emergency operation on Noah after his bowel perforated due to necrotising enterocolitis (NEC), a serious gastrointestinal problem that mostly affects premature babies.

“It took a huge team effort to perform this operation, we were just cogs in a big machine,” Professor Kimble said.

Three months after his birth, Noah is making a positive recovery and is growing stronger by the day, going home for the first time yesterday.

Professor Kimble said hearing of Noah’s successful recovery was “lovely”.

The O’Briens, from North Brisbane, are sharing their story to highlight the care they received at Mater Mothers’ Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for more than 100 days.

Mrs O’Brien, 32, revealed she had feared her newborn would not survive bowel surgery days after being born.

“The anaesthetists told us the risks involved in the operation and that Noah might not be able to be resuscitated because he was so unwell. It was a stressful time for us,” she said.

“I look at him now and think how far we have come. I’m looking forward to starting life as a family of three at home - we have been in hospital for so long.”

Mater Neonatologist Dr Richard Mausling described Noah’s story as “inspirational”.

“He was very sick on the day of his surgery and he certainly wouldn't have made it without having had the surgery,” Dr Mausling said.

“Geordie and Michael were at his side throughout his journey and were his biggest advocates and supporters -both for Noah and for each other - and that was fantastic to be part of.

“Noah remained critically unwell in the week after the surgery and without the intensive care treatment provided by the team in the Neonatal Critical Care Unit, the outcome could have been very different for Noah.

“I was very lucky to play a small part in his incredible journey.” 

Mater Mothers’ Hospital Cardiac Surgical Neonatal Critical Care Nurse Unit Manager Chloe Ahearne said the cause of necrotising enterocolitis was due to a combination of factors including feeding, mucosal injury, inflammation, and invasive infection.

“Six-day-old Noah had more than half of his bowel removed during the operation and had to have a stoma created so that his healthy bowel could drain into a bag,” Chloe said.

“In Australia, necrotising enterocolitis affects approximately 3-4 per cent of premature babies born at less than 32 weeks gestation.”

After a gruelling three-hour wait, Geordie said they received the call to inform them that their baby’s surgery went well.

Mrs O’Brien said: “It still blows my mind that surgeons can operate on such tiny babies. Noah weighed 900grams when he was operated on”.

After more than 102 days in hospital, Noah was making a positive recovery, she said.

Geordie said Dr Peter Borzi, another neonatal and paediatric surgeon at Mater Mothers’ Hospital and Queensland Children’s Hospital, performed a stoma reversal surgery on Noah just 10 weeks after his first operation.

“He is now off all oxygen support and continues to amaze us every day with his progress,” Mrs O’Brien said.

“We are so thankful for the incredible team at the Neonatal Critical Care Unit for all they have done for our son.

“The care we received at Mater was phenomenal, it was world-class.

“He’s kicking goals and doing so well. We are so proud of him.”

Noah has more than tripled his weight since birth, now weighing 3.2 kg.

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