If baby Elvina had been born in a manger 2000 years ago, it's highly unlikely she ever would have celebrated her first Christmas.
But thanks to the marvels of modern science and the sacrifices of her parents and siblings, the elf-like 10-month-old will be among the carol singers at Leura Uniting Church on Christmas Eve.
Elvina Robson is the eighth child of Emma and Brendan Robson of Wentworth Falls — the miracle baby they feared they would never take home.
Born on February 17 at just 27 weeks and three days’ gestation (when brain tissue is usually still developing and the lungs are immature) she came into the world 13 weeks too early and critically ill. She weighed 1274 grams and was 36cms long - the following day her weight dropped to just 1088 grams.
Baby Elvina managed to survive, but only after 84 days in hospital and with a lot of medical help. Today she is the size of a three-month-old.
In the month of her birth, Elvina lay in a humidicrib lit up like a Christmas tree with an endless array of lights and cables and electronic monitors keeping her going. Her lungs and stomach were underdeveloped and her first outfits were doll’s clothes - “probably the equivalent of 8 naught clothes”.
“Dr (John) Pardey said to me the pregnancy would come at a great cost and he didn’t mean monetary value. I replied to him that if I don’t bring a baby home at the end of this, it will be an unbearable cost to our family, we just can’t lose another child,” Mrs Robson said.
Nine years earlier the Robson family lost a daughter called Stella. Born at 27 weeks and two days’ gestation — she died in hospital less than eight hours later.
“Elvina was in the same neonatal unit as our other little girl,” Mrs Robson said. “The bed Stella died in (of pulmonary hypoplasia) was the bed across from us and even though she died nine years ago when we walked in there it all came back to us.”
Having a premature baby put a huge strain on the Robson family - made up of Marguerite, 16, Gilbert, 12, Lucy, 10, Walter, 4 and Angelique, 3.
Mum, Emma, was hospitalised when her waters broke at Nepean Square at 21 weeks and stayed at Nepean Private until Elvina was born. Dad, Brendan, kept the family going with considerable help from their eldest Marguerite, who cooked dinners and cared for the younger children.
“The doctors said before 24 weeks there’s nothing to salvage so I wouldn’t do anything, I stayed flat on my back for six-and-a-half weeks. I only got up to go to the toilet, I didn’t even watch TV, I would just sit there and think.
“Everyone really pulled together. It was a hopeless situation — you take one parent out of a large family ...”
Eldest daughter, Marguerite said “everything fell apart when mum was gone . . . we all did a lot of praying this year,” she added.
But Elvina had real spirit right from the beginning.
“She’s a little fighter and meant to be here, everything was stacked against her, similar to the Christmas story, but she just doesn’t grow weary, she keeps going, ‘I’m meant to be here, I’m here for a purpose,’ we are really lucky to have her,” Mrs Robson said.
During her time in the Nepean Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Elvina had many health issues to overcome.
“Breathing was a struggle along with maintaining her blood sugar and fighting jaundice,” Mrs Robson said. “Elvina also had a central line for medication and arterial lines which also pose a risk for limb loss. Without these medical treatments her chance of survival would not have been great.
“She had all the types of lines you can think of, she had them sutured into her umbilical cord and they can even bleed to death from them doing that, she had lines going up her leg into her stomach - they feed them in through the ankle, she had every sort of dangerous thing possible.”
Eight in 100 newborn Australian babies are born more than eight weeks premature but there has been considerable developments in neo-natal care. At Nepean Hospital’s neonatal unit probiotics is now a standard therapy for premature babies, helping babies like Elvina, whose stomach was underdeveloped, get the good bacteria needed to digest. In the first half of 2012, some 26 premature babies were given this treatment.
Elvina was transferred to Katoomba Hospital’s Childrens’ ward on Easter Saturday when no longer considered critical.
“She was still very tiny and needed to be closely monitored for breathing and growth issues. “She stayed a further 33 days in hospital and was discharged just before Mother’s Day a great gift for us,” Mrs Robson added.
“She has come out of it pretty much unscathed, she should have lot of ongoing problems - at this point there’s no reason to think anything major will be a problem,” Mrs Robson said.
A plaque the family bought last Christmas has proven to be very prescient — “ Every day holds the possibility of miracles”.