When tiny Phoebe Read was born prematurely at 24 weeks last November, doctors warned she had a 10% chance of survival.
Born straight into a freezer bag as doctors and nurses hurried to ventilate her undeveloped lungs, Phoebe had a hole in the heart and later required over 20 blood transfusions to keep her alive.
Now a bouncing seven-month-old baby, Phoebe owes her life to the neonatal intensive care unit of Luton & Dunstable Hospital, where she stayed for 177 days.
Mum Jennifer, 35, recalled the day her daughter was born. She said: “I started to have contractions in the early morning. I thought it was just a little pain and we went to the Milton Keynes Hospital to be on the safe side and she was born at 2pm that afternoon.
“We were totally not prepared. The hospital tried to give me steroids to help her lungs develop. I only got one injection before she was born.”
Jennifer and husband Stuart, 34, watched as doctors rushed to transfer Phoebe to a hospital with added facilities.
She said: “It was really traumatic. They spent some time trying to ventilate her so we didn’t get to see her, I didn’t even know what she looked like.
“It was six weeks before I got to hold her.
“Milton Keynes are only equipped to deal with babies born after 26 weeks and so they had to keep her alive until they could transfer her.
“By about 6 or 7pm that evening, Luton & Dunstable Hospital had managed to shuffle some babies around so we got an emergency space.”
A midwife took a picture of the baby – who weighed just 1lb 3oz – and gave it to the shocked couple.
Jennifer added: “It was incredibly strange because we wanted to tell people that we had a baby but we didn’t even know if she was going to live during the night. It was a limbo you get used to with a premature baby, everyone’s on hold.”
Phoebe’s health steadily improved in the intensive care unit. After a heart operation at Great Ormond Street and double hernia operation at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, she at last was able to come home to her family in Great Brickhill three weeks ago.
Phoebe’s ordeal has left her with chronic lung disease – an extensive scarring of the lungs – and she will depend on oxygen support until she is a toddler.
Jennifer said it was probable that Phoebe would be classified as severely asthmatic in later life.
In the meantime, the family is determined to raise money to support parents whose children are being treated at the intensive care unit.
Jennifer said: “It costs around £1,000 per night per baby to keep a baby alive in the unit.
“It’s obvious that the money is poured into the exceptional care, so the facilities for parents fall by the wayside. We’re trying to raise £800,000 to build a house behind the unit with bedrooms for parents who’ve travelled from afar.”
To raise funds, Jennifer, who works as a risk manager in London, has organised a charity zumbathon at Cedars Upper School Theatre in Leighton Buzzard, on Sunday, July 19.
The event begins at 3pm and offers two hours of zumba dancing for adults and children, as well as a raffle, with facepainting, cakes and refreshments.
Tickets cost £10 per adult and £3 per child. For more information, email Jennifer at PhoebeZumba@hotmail.com.