SOPHIE Little gave her parents the best gift they could ask for this Christmas - a magical day at home with her family.
The 13-month-old spent last Christmas Day in the Intensive Care Unit at Craigavon Hospital’s Neo-Natal Unit, having been born 12 weeks early to her mum Charlene.
The baby girl was Charlene and David Little’s first daughter, but a routine check in November 2010 revealed Sophie would arrive prematurely and require emergency care.
Her parents, who already had two sons Matthew and Nathan when Sophie was born, didn’t even get to hold their beloved daughter for weeks. When she was born on November 26 they were allowed to see her briefly, give her a kiss on the head and then entrust her to the care of hospital staff.
For around six weeks Charlene and David travelled back and forth from their Whiteacres home to visit their baby girl, even spending last Christmas Day in hospital. “It just didn’t feel like Christmas at all last year because we couldn’t have Sophie here at home with us,” said Charlene.
“But by that stage we were at least able to cuddle her. All you want to do when you have a baby is hold them but we couldn’t do that with Sophie for weeks so we couldn’t bond like most other parents do. That was probably the most difficult thing. That, and not knowing when she would be well enough to come home with us.”
But Charlene credited the health staff for making the best of their Christmas in hospital. She said, “They had a card for Sophie from Santa, and it had a little footprint on it. They really did their best to make it special for us. I don’t think we could thank them enough for all they did for us.”
This year the Littles were able to spend Christmas as a family, and Charlene said just having everyone together was a blessing.
“I think we appreciated it so much more because we knew what we had been through last year. We had the two boys to look after and we were making at least one, sometimes two, daily trips to the hospital.
“But I don’t think either myself or David realised how common it is to have a premature child and how much some other parents have to go through. I think we were some of the lucky ones. We saw some very ill children during our time in hospital.”
Sophie is making progress every day, having been discharged from hospital in January 2011, but still suffers some after-effects of her premature birth. She was born with a cleft palate and is due to undergo a second operation to repair that later this year.
She also suffers from reflux which affects her kidneys and could be on antibiotics for the next few years. But Charlene, whose eldest son Matthew is autistic, said the problems they have had have all been “minor” and she is just grateful to have her family together at home at last.
“Because of what we went through with Sophie, every day she was alive and well was a bonus,” she said. “My husband and parents have been so good throughout. And Sophie happened to be born on my late grandfather’s birthday - I like to think he has been looking after us as well.”