MY STORY: I was told to kiss my newborn baby goodbye – he’d die in a matter of hours
On the fourth day following his birth, things took a major turn.
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As most expectant women do, Chelsea Barnes (22) spent the final months of her pregnancy in eager anticipation.

But the young mother, from Matroosfontein in Cape Town, was in no way prepared for the turmoil that awaited her.

Here she shares her story of despair, heartbreak and how, through unwavering prayer, her son defied all medical odds and left doctors stunned.

“It’s a date I will probably never forget.

Nine years to the date, 9 February 2008, a tragic car accident claimed my mother’s life and now, 9 February 2017, it seemed I was to lose my newborn son too.

Soon after he was born, little Zachary’s face became swollen, as if someone had forcefully punched him. His organs were literally failing in front of me. I couldn’t stomach the thought of losing my son, so we continued praying and fasting, believing for a miracle.

On the fourth day following his birth, things took a major turn.

The birth day

On 7 February 2017 I welcomed my son into the world. But what should have been one of the greatest moments of my life turned into the scariest, because Zachary was born with severe brain damage and an appalling Apgar score (a method used to establish the general health of a newborn baby).

An episiotomy (where an incision is made in the perineum and the posterior vaginal wall to make labour easier) and vacuum-assisted delivery was needed for his birth – but there was no theatre available at the hospital. Zach and I had to wait 45 agonising minutes before we were rushed into theatre to have the emergency C-section performed.

By the time my little boy was born he wasn’t crying at all. As soon as he was out of me, they took him to another room, his dad following him.

Doctors told me Zach needed to be transferred to Groote Schuur Hospital because Tygerberg Hospital – where I delivered my baby – didn’t have a space for him. I was also told that Zach’s brain “needed to be monitored”.

8 February

My grandma sent me a WhatsApp message to let me know that things weren’t going well with Zachary. He had brain damage.

Staff at Tygerberg explained to us what had led to Zachary’s condition, and my family and I were then rushed to Groote Schuur to spend what medics thought were Zach’s final few hours with him.

I was heartbroken. The distraught feeling that comes with hearing you might lose your child within hours is a feeling that cannot be described, only experienced. And even then it’s something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

That night, family from far and wide showed up in support at the hospital to say goodbye to him. Tears flowed and emotions ran high. But we never gave up, uniting in unwavering prayer and fasting as a family.

9 February

The same day I lost my mother all those years ago, seemed as if it were going to deliver a second tragedy.

It was the first day I got to hold my son. I fed him through a tube and changed his diaper. It was so special.

One of the professors at the hospital had called me into the ward earlier that morning and explained his condition to me. He was the sickest baby in the ICU ward, was placed on a cooling mat and given the strongest medication available for babies who experience seizures.

He could stay on the cooling mat for 72 hours, after which he’d probably die due to the damage his brain had suffered.

As a first-time mother, I witnessed nurses stick a tube down my son’s throat to feed him. I saw his face swell up and bruise. His organs began failing right in front of me.

But there is power in prayer.

Four days later

He was put on normal temperature and could open his eyes. Inquisitive as he still is, his eyes scanned the room and he began moving his tiny body.

My son, such a little fighter!

Professors were stunned at Zach’s progress and sent us back to Tygerberg Hospital, where we stayed an additional six days before we were finally sent home.

Funny movements

Three months later, Zachary began making “funny movements”. We initially thought it was spasms but one day, while on his routine visit to the physiotherapist, I showed her the video.

She sent us to a paediatrician, who confirmed that Zach was experiencing tonic seizures. The paediatrician immediately gave us a referral letter to Red Cross Memorial Children’s Hospital.

There, Zach underwent a 24-hour telemetry test, VEP and EEG. Doctors suspect Ohtahara Syndrome (a neurological disorder characterized by seizures) but we’re monitoring Zachary’s development. His seizures are uncontrolled and he’s developing quite slowly.

I’m sharing this with other moms who might have experienced something similar or who are currently going through a trying time.

You’re not alone!

I never wanted to share Zachary’s story and always kept Facebook and Instagram posts to a minimum. But since it’s National Epilepsy Awareness Month, I felt it appropriate to open up.

I can’t imagine what I’d do without my fiancé and my family. Their support, offers to take turns accompanying us to his doctor’s appointments or even just babysitting him have meant the world to me.

Zachary just recently turned nine months old and every day with my little bundle of joy is sweeter than the day before.”


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