CUDDLING little William Boulton is the best Christmas present his proud parents could wish for.
He and all the other tots below are living proof that miracles do happen. This time last year as newborns they beat terrible odds to survive, and now their mums and dad are planning their first family Christmas at home.
Here the families, many of whom were supported by the Sick Children’s Trust, tell their inspirational stories.
‘I said goodbye’
WHEN William Boulton arrived in January, 15 weeks early and weighing 1lb 10oz, mum Amy and dad James, 33, a chef, were braced for sorrow.
Since then William has beaten the deadly bowel disease NEC twice, had five blood transfusions, surgery for a double hernia and been brought back to life after stopping breathing for five minutes.
Insurance worker Amy, 31, from Peterborough, says:
“After an uneventful pregnancy I was taken to Peterborough Hospital after my waters broke and contractions started unexpectedly.
“William was so tiny. He was put straight on life support then transferred to Addenbrooke’s for specialist care.
“He couldn’t breathe for himself or feed and he developed sepsis and NEC, a potentially fatal bowel condition.
“Because his lungs were so small he had monitors attached to an alarm system if he stopped breathing – those alarms sounded over 30 times.
“Once he went limp and grey and it took three nurses five minutes to get him back. After two minutes I gave him a kiss, wiping the tears off my face and said goodbye.
“I’d thought if he was going, then I wanted to go too.
“William responded well to antibiotics so didn’t need surgery for his infection, but at four months, weighing just 5lb, he had surgery for a double hernia.
“On May 7, 16 weeks after he was born, James and I took William home. In September he came off oxygen. Now he’s eating well and he’s such a happy little boy.
“This Christmas we’re taking him to see Santa. We’ve got a special stocking hanging over the mantelpiece which says “Baby’s First Christmas” on it, and we’re showering him with presents too.”
‘I cried putting up the decorations’
CUSTOMER services assistant Jade Peachey, 32, and builder Peter Whittlesey, 32, feared the worst when daughter Effie arrived at 27 weeks and weighing 2lb 4oz. Jade, from March, Cambs, says:
“When we found out I was pregnant in October 2015 it felt like all our years of prayers had been answered.
“My cervix had been removed after a cancer battle seven years ago. There was just a little stitch in place to hold a baby should I get pregnant – although the chances of that were minimal.
“The pregnancy was horrific and I had regular checks on that stitch – if it had opened our baby would be stillborn.
“At 36 weeks I developed sepsis. I was too ill to deliver the baby, which had to come out if she was to survive.
“After a week my infection subsided enough and I gave birth to Effie by C-section. She weighed 2lb 4oz.
“She was put on a ventilator because her lungs were so under-developed and had to be resuscitated three times.
“Mercifully she had no fluid on her brain, which could have left her brain damaged. We prepared for the worst, but Effie proved herself to be a double-miracle.
“Day by day she grew stronger and confounded the doctors’ warnings.
“On April 18 we were sent home with our beautiful, healthy little baby. Peter and I have gone to town with Christmas outfits for Effie. I cried last week as
“I put up the decorations with her beside me – I thought that day would never come.”
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‘Op could have killed her’
FULL-TIME mum Stephanie Thorn, 21, and fiancé George Smith, 24, a labourer, were devastated to hear their baby needed risky surgery to correct a rare bowel disorder.
Stephanie, from Rochford, Essex, says:
“I had no problems with my pregnancy and when Kiara was born on June 29, just short of 36 weeks, weighing 5lb 14oz, everything seemed fine.
“We’ve no idea why she came early, we like to think it was her way of telling us she needed help.
“But I quickly noticed she hadn’t been to the toilet, then she began vomiting.
“At the Special Care Baby Unit at Southend University Hospital the doctors blue-lighted her to the Royal London Hospital for surgery. We knew her life hung in the balance but we still didn’t know the cause.
“After three days our worst fears were realised.
“Doctors said she had Hirschsprung’s disease, where you can’t pass food through your system. Surgery to correct this is relatively simple on older children, but on a newborn there are massive risks. It could have killed her.
“On August 22 at the Royal London she had that op to re-plumb her bowels and it was a success. Just to have her with us this Christmas is a dream come true after thinking she wouldn’t leave the hospital alive.”
‘We gave her a final kiss’
IN March, Melissa MacDonald, 24, was told her three-month-old baby girl was unlikely to survive a heart condition.
She and her barman partner Andrew Crawford, 27, said their goodbyes.
Melissa, from Wooler, Northumberland, says:
“Elena-Mai was born on December 6 weighing a very healthy 8lb 1oz but she wasn’t feeding. Tests showed her oxygen levels were really low.
“Three days later she was rushed to the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, where scans showed she had a heart murmur and a hole in her heart.
“They didn’t think it was too serious and sent us home.
“But at home her breathing got worse. Andrew and I took it in turns to sleep at the end of her cot to make sure she was still alive.
“She had fluid on her lungs and contracted bronchitis.
“She was taken back to the Freeman, where we were told to prepare ourselves to say goodbye. We both gave her one final kiss and hug before she had an eight-hour operation to patch up the hole in her heart.
“When the surgeon told us she was going to be OK I hugged him.
“This Christmas we want Elena-Mai all to ourselves, so it’ll just be us three having the most amazing day imaginable.”
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Donate to our appeal
IT’S still not too late to get involved in our brilliant Smiles at Christmas appeal to light up the faces of needy youngsters.
We are supporting four fantastic charities which all do incredible work with children.
All donations from kind-hearted readers will be shared evenly between them.
Scotty’s little soldiers
The UK-only charity helping the bereaved children of servicemen and women.
Children with cancer
Helps youngsters who have been struck down with the killer disease.
The AMAR Foundation
Backed by Prince Charles– provides medical help and education for children fleeing IS terror in the Middle East.
Gives help and support to children caught up in domestic violence.
Text: To give £2, text KIDS55 2 to 70070. You can change the amount to £3, £4, £5 or £10 by changing the last figure to 3, 4, 5 or 10.
Post: Send a cheque, made payable to JustGiving Foundation, to JustGiving The Sun Appeal, Bluefin Building 2nd Floor, London SE1 0TA
You can donate new or used toys in good condition at 1,370 branches of McColl’s convenience stores.
Toys “R” Us will accept new toys only — look for special Sun trolleys near entrances.
Or tweet using #SmilesAtChristmas to let us know how you’re getting involved!