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Ennis Hospital where Mark Blennerhassett works as a psychiatric nurse. Photograph by John Kelly .

Ennis-based psychiatric nurse issues neo-natal unit appeal

A psychiatric nurse, who works in Ennis Hospital, has issued an appeal to support a regional neo-natal unit that provided vital care to his baby daughter whose chances of survival after birth were rated at just 50%.

Mark Blennerhassett has worked as a psychiatric nurse in the Acute Psychiatric Unit at Ennis Hospital for the last six years.

Now living in Lisnagry, the South Kerry native has set up a GoFundMe page with his wife, Lisa, which has already raised almost €8,000 for the neo-natal unit at University Maternity Hospital Limerick (UMHL).

Weighing in at a tiny 506grams or 1lb2oz at 26 weeks gestation on May 28 last, Ella Blennerhassett was the smallest baby born at UHML last year.

She showed great courage to make it to her first birthday as her parents nearly lost Ella when she was 16 days old.
The couple got a phone call at 5:30am from the neo natal team urging them to come in straight away as Ella had stopped breathing and her heart rate was dropping. After 15 minutes of CPR and five shots of adrenaline, she came round.

“When Ella was born, we were told her chance of survival was 50/50. The first 24 hours, then the next 48, then 72 hours and the first week were all huge hurdles for her. After that the main objective was to avoid infection and make her grow. She spent the first seven weeks of her life on life support and every day was such a rollercoaster,” Lisa said.

Such was her critical state at the beginning, her parents were advised to have her baptised. During her time in hospital she battled two serious lung infections with countless drops in saturations and heart rate levels, low sodium levels, an open heart vessel which had to be treated medically, four blood transfusions, low sugar levels, an abscess on her thigh after Men B vaccine and retinopathy of prematurity in her eyes which resulted in a trip to Dublin by ambulance.

Ella had another setback after her four month vaccines and had to go back into the incubator on oxygen for 24 hours. She had numerous x-rays, often in one day and several over the weeks, more IV and cannula lines than can be counted, brain ultrasounds, morphine sedation, countless antibiotics and she was tube fed continuously for her first 12 weeks.

Ella began her life on a life support machine for seven weeks, then on CPAP, hi flow and intermittent oxygen before being finally able to breathe on her own after three and a half months.
“Every day we walked through those double doors, we didn’t know what was facing us or what the doctor was going to tell us that day. The night she had to be resuscitated was the lowest point. When we arrived she had thankfully come round, with a whole team of nurses and doctors around her. She was critically sick for quite a while but thankfully as time wore on and with weight gain, she was able to handle and tolerate things better.

“Now she weighs 16 pounds and is full of mischief. She is crawling and brings so much joy to everybody. She is followed up closely by dietitians, physios, speech and language therapist, consultants and opthamologists but takes everything in her stride,” Lisa added.

The couple really appreciate the great care provided to Ella in the neo-natal unit.

“The NICU became our home away from home and what work these people do on a daily basis is nothing short of incredible. The staff were always ready to offer much needed reassurance, positivity, arm around the shoulder, a cup of tea, tissues to dry the tears, laughter, personal experiences and stories, explanations numerous times to help make sense of everything and the utmost care and love for the babies.

“Whatever amount raised will go towards much needed resources for the babies and their parents during one of the most stressful and emotional times in their lives. We are forever indebted to all the staff in Neo in UMH Limerick for saving our daughter’s life and would like to give back something in return for Ella’s first birthday,” Lisa said.

Donations can be made at https://www.gofundme.com/f/ellas-1st-birthday-fundraiser

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