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A baby born at just 24 weeks is thriving at Mater Mothers’ Hospital after a 4000km mercy dash was made across Australia to deliver an emergency supply of his mother’s breastmilk.
Baby Levi Atkinson weighed just 740g – not much more than a tub of butter – when he was born in Darwin on June 22.
Complications after birth meant that Levi and his mum Tegan Wain, 37, needed to be airlifted to Mater’s Neonatal Critical Care Unit in Brisbane (NCCU), whilst early expressed breastmilk remained frozen in Darwin.
Little Levi was making good progress, but this month Ms Wain’s milk supply began to fade due to the stress of her son’s health.
That’s when Mater Mothers’ Hospital Cardiac Surgical Nurse Unit Manager Chloe Ahearne launched a mission to retrieve about 150 bottles of frozen breastmilk that Ms Wain had managed to store at her Darwin home before Levi’s transfer.
Ms Ahearne worked with logistics experts, Mater Foundation and the Royal Darwin Hospital to safely send Tegan’s “precious cargo” on a 24-hour journey from the Top End to Adelaide and then Brisbane.
Ms Wain and fiancé Rodney Atkinson, thanked the chain of people who ensured their milk was delivered still frozen after travelling in two transport vehicles and on board two flights.
“I just didn’t want all that milk to go to waste and everyone helped make that happen,” Ms Wain said.
“And I wanted to avoid giving Levi formula to prevent upsetting his tummy after he underwent abdominal surgery.
“I was so stressed wondering if the breastmilk would make it to Brisbane and am so glad the delivery was made possible.”
Ms Ahearne said Mater’s NCCU advocated family-centred development care and early breastmilk was critical for Levi’s continued improvement.
“We knew there were going to be challenges with the distance and the need to ensure the milk remained frozen, but the team was determined to make it work,” she said.
“Everyone understood the benefits of getting that precious early breastmilk to Levi, and careful planning ensured it arrived safely.”
Ms Wain’s mother-in-law Brenda, who lives in Darwin, was given the task of making sure the breastmilk was packed securely in an esky with plenty of ice.
The South Brisbane courier company guided Brenda, who was a bit wary about doing it, to think about packing the esky as if she was going camping and needed to keep things cold.
Mater Foundation and Royal Darwin Hospital funded the $1025 transport bill with the frozen breastmilk arriving 24 hours after leaving Darwin.
Fortunately, Levi has responded well to the care he has received from the Mater Mothers’ team and should be able to return to Darwin with his parents in a few weeks.
“Levi was in a critical condition when we came to Brisbane,” Ms Wain said.
“He’s undergone seven blood transfusions, two platelet transfusions, had a clot on his brain – which has resolved – as well as a hole in his heart, which has also resolved.
“But more than 85 days on, he weighs over 2.5kg and things are looking good.”
Mater Mothers’ Hospital Director of Clinical Services Maree Reynolds praised the efforts of those involved in coordinating the safe arrival of Ms Wain’s frozen breastmilk.
“Knowing how important it was for Ms Wain to have her breastmilk available for baby Levi and delivering it safely is a great achievement,” Ms Reynolds said.
“No doubt it will be a great story to share with Levi when he’s older.”
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