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Aimée, Blenheim

"The team at Starship are unsung heroes. They work so hard to give our children better heath and brighter futures." - Emma, Aimée's mother

Hope, strength and joy. The most wonderful gifts for NICU babies and their families this Christmas.

When a newborn baby needs intensive care, a parent's dream of that perfect bonding time at home with their precious baby is shattered. Replaced by a whirlwind of activity. And when that happens over Christmas, a time when family and friends are gathering for happy celebrations, coping must be even harder.

With Christmas just a few weeks away, we want to share with you a very special story. It's a story of hope and strength and ultimately joy.

Emma from Blenheim was pregnant with twins when a scan revealed one of her babies had a rare chromosomal disorder. Sadly the baby (they named her Grace) passed away in utero at 29 weeks. When this happened Emma's body went into labour several times. Eventually the twins were born by emergency C-section. Born early at 32 weeks, baby Aimée survived. She weighed a tiny 1.9kg.

A week later, during a check-up, Aimée's paediatrician was unable to detect a femoral pulse, indicating a problem with her aortic pulse. With restricted blood flow to the lower part of Aimée's body, her kidneys were already starting to fail. Starship was called.

Within a few hours, our Starship National Air Ambulance was flying south from Auckland to bring Aimée back for life-saving care. Aimée was one of more than 150 critically sick babies and children flown to Starship from all over New Zealand by this service last year.

Emma recalls arriving at Starship's Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) around midnight. A couple of hours later, a cardiologist delivered devastating news. Her precious newborn had a heart condition called a coarctation of the aorta - a narrowing of her main blood vessel that leads from her heart. She needed surgery urgently.

At 10 days old, weighing just 1.9kg, Aimée went into surgery.  Emma remembers being told that it was a high-risk operation because she was so tiny.

Aimée's heart was the size of a walnut. They needed to get inside and open her aorta up. I can't even imagine how they managed to perform that operation on something so small. But if she didn't have the operation, she would have died.

Emma, Aimée's mother

"It was the worst day of my life as we feared we would lose our last remaining twin," recalls Emma. "The possibility of losing both Grace and Aimée was almost too much to bear."

Later that day Emma and husband Pierre received the phone call advising Aimée's surgery was successful. "At that moment we had a sense of peace. We knew if Aimée had any chance of surviving, she was right where she needed to be."

As our national children's hospital, Starship helps children from all over New Zealand. Starship's NICU cares for around 900 infants like Aimée every year - that's 900 families going through the toughest time of their lives, often for weeks on end. It takes enormous strength for parents to cope in dreadful situations where the life of their precious son or daughter hangs in the balance and is out of their control. 

The way we care for sick children is constantly advancing. New innovations continue to improve outcomes for babies who might not have made it in the past. Starship clinicians - such as the intensive care specialists and heart surgeons who cared for Aimée - are collaborating with experts globally so our children can have better health and brighter futures.

Sadly Aimée's Starship journey wasn't over yet.  Four months later her tiny blood vessels had narrowed again and she needed another operation. Aimée and Emma returned to Starship again; this time for a five hour open-heart surgery. Once again, Aimée's life was in the hands of Starship's highly skilled team. All Emma and Pierre could do was trust in the team and hope their precious daughter - and her tiny heart - could be saved once again. 

The great news is that Aimée is now doing really well. A year on, she has celebrated her first birthday - with a cake in the shape of a heart.

Emma says; "It is impossible to put into words how much Starship has given us - and hundreds of other parents like us. Without Starship, our beautiful baby girl wouldn't be here today.  I can't thank you enough - but thank you, thank you, thank you!"

Thank you to all our generous supporters who help make these sorts of stories possible. Please donate so that we can continue to help Starship provide better health and brighter futures for our children.

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