THE nurse steps out from behind the triage desk, pressing the stethoscope to Ameena’s chest.
Mum Kaumoana is outwardly composed. She has held her newborn daughter in Sunshine Hospital countless times before. Born at just 31 weeks, Ameena spent four weeks – more than half of her fledgling life – in the special care nursery. Watching on as clinicians poked and prodded their third-born had become almost normal for Kaumoana and husband Manmeet.
But this time is different. While Ameena’s first hospital stay was largely about patience, and waiting as her premmie 1788g frame grew stronger, this visit to the emergency department feels urgent.
Ameena had spent less than three weeks at home with her family when she stopped breathing in her parent’s bedroom after being breastfed. A flu-like bug had made its presence felt in the Singh household earlier in the week. The normally boundless energy of Ameena’s big brothers Davinder, 4, and Xrizon, 3, had been sapped for a few days, and they were on the up again.
But for tiny Ameena, who was still nine days shy of her due date, this infection – its cause then unknown – appeared to be taking a much greater toll.
She’s been crying a lot, Kaumoana and Manmeet explain to an emergency physician after the trio are sent through to an assessment bay.
Her temperature’s high, she’s been vomiting up all of her feeds, and there have been no wet nappies.
But their mild concerns had morphed into serious worry when Ameena momentarily stopped breathing in the middle of an otherwise uneventful afternoon.
With Ameena’s grandmother on hand to watch their eldest children, Kaumoana and Manmeet rush their baby daughter to Sunshine Hospital. It’s a tense, 19km drive from their home in Melbourne’s outer northern suburbs.
Before too long, the doctors have reason to be concerned, too. Ameena has another apnoea – she stops breathing for about 30 seconds – and is transferred to the resuscitation bay.
Her tiny body, still only weighing 2890g, is dwarfed by the life-saving equipment that surrounds her.
Dad wipes away a tear. Ameena grasps his finger as she drifts off to sleep, oblivious to the high-tech activity around her. Mum kisses and caresses her daughter’s head.
Throughout the evening several blood tests and a lung X-ray are performed. A lumber puncture – the drawing of spinal fluid to diagnose, and rule out, meningitis – is also attempted.
As the hours pass, and as Ameena remains stable without any need for breathing support, doctors become increasingly convinced – and assured – that Ameena has a viral infection. They administer antibiotics, just in case they are facing a potentially more dangerous bacterial infection.
From there it becomes a waiting game. As the clock passes midnight – marking mum Kaumoana’s 26th birthday – doctors decide it is safe to transfer Ameena to the children’s ward. Five hours of close monitoring had allayed concerns of serious illness.
The next day, Western Health’s head of paediatrics, Dr Martin Wright, happily reports that blood tests confirmed Ameena has Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), a common cause of respiratory and breathing infections in children.
For bigger kids, RSV is rarely a problem. For smaller ones like Ameena, it can be more of an issue.
“The younger the child, the more likely they are to get more serious complications,” Dr Wright says.
“Ameena had picked up a common infection that can cause a range of problems for premature babies,” he says.
“But in the end, we were able to say that Ameena was not that unwell.”
Nevertheless, Dr Wright says it had been very important to rule out a range of other, potentially dangerous causes of Ameena’s apnoea and vomiting: “It could have been more serious”.
Two days later, Ameena is back at home. Within about a week, all symptoms of the virus had disappeared.
“It was very stressful, and her dad was very emotional,” says Kaumoana, reflecting on the experience.
“We didn’t like what we were seeing, but I felt very relieved that Ameena was in hospital, she was in the right place.
“At home, I probably would have panicked, but I felt much more comfortable knowing she had everyone around her.”
The Greatest Need Project is an online story-sharing website with two major goals – to help patients facing significant hardship and disadvantage, and to facilitate research, at Western Health.
As a patient, Ameena’s parents are sharing her story in bid to help those at Western Health who need it most.
By making a donation on Ameena’s behalf – and sharing her story on social media – you are making a difference too. Thank you.