Childrens Health

Mother and Newborn Both Beat the Odds after 120 Days in NICU

76 babies are born prematurely each day in Australia alone. This year,  Harley Hansen was one of them. Harley was born at 27 weeks at the Royal Women’s Hospital. Harley was born a little fighter, a trait he most certainly got from his incredibly strong mum, Kate.

Kate has endured a nearly fatal accident, a long recovery, a tragic loss, and a life-threatening delivery, before spending 120 days in the NICU, perched beside her son for 12+ hours a day.

This is her and Harley’s incredible story.

Harley and Kate's NICU story - World Prematurity Day
Kate and Harley, two very brave fighters. Source: Supplied

Lucky to be alive

Ten years before Harley’s early arrival, Kate was in a terrible car accident. The Point Cook, Victoria mum experienced a seizure at the wheel and was lucky to have survived the crash.

She spent 12 days in a coma with her family praying she would pull through. She did but it took years and years of hard work.

Due to the accident, Kate had to learn how to walk and talk again, to dress herself and to read. It took three years for the brain swelling to go down.

I was so frustrated because I felt dumb. I knew how to put underwear on but I couldn’t do it anymore.”

The severity of her injuries also meant she needed a kidney and pancreas transplant. She had type one diabetes and was being hooked up to a dialysis machine for 5+ hours a day every second day.

She waited 8 years for a phone call that saved her life.

On 22 January 2019, Kate received a call to advise that a kidney and pancreas match had been found. Upon recovering from the
transplant, her world changed again.

When I woke up, I was no longer a diabetic. I had 1 treatment of dialysis and never had to have it again. 10 days of excruciating pain as I was literally cut in half but my life finally started to begin from that point on.”

Kate’s acquired brain injury is permanent and although she can’t feel her limbs or write properly, she is no longer in a wheelchair and returned to work part-time.

A twin pregnancy 

Kate married her then-fiance, Zac in 2021. They knew that falling pregnant naturally would be difficult so they turned to IVF.

It was always going to be tricky given my health, the injections, tests and hormones are gruelling and inevitably, unsuccessful for us.” 

However, just as the couple began to give up hope, they fell pregnant naturally. An ultrasound confirmed it was twins.

Sadly, Kate lost Twin B during the pregnancy.

For 9 weeks, I stroked my belly, I fantasized about the future and chose names. People have tried to make me feel better with comments like, ‘It wasn’t meant to be’ or ‘He wasn’t actually a baby” and it hurts. A loss is a loss and I lost my son.”

Kidney failure in the lead-up to labour 

Through the pain, Kate tried to stay positive and focus on Harley. However, she developed pre-eclampsia and was admitted to the hospital for constant monitoring.

Pre-eclampsia made me very ill. I was falling over if I stood up too fast, fainting a lot and the headaches were horrific. [In addition] my donor kidney was beginning to fail. It was dialysis again or lose my kidney.”

The doctors all agreed it was safest for both Kate and Bub to schedule a C-section.

Harley was born at just 27 weeks weighing in at only 860g.

Harley and Kate - 120 days in the NICU
Source: Supplied

Due to complications, Kate didn’t get to meet Harley for three days but it’s a moment she will never forget.

He was so small, but fully formed. All I could do was cry. No one prepares you for this moment.” 

Life in the NICU

Kate knew Harley would need to remain in the NICU for some time but she didn’t expect another complication. It was discovered that Harley had a PDA or a hole in his heart.  Whilst some heart issues in babies can be resolved with medication, Harley’s situation did not improve.

Harley's journey in the NICU - World Prematurity Day
Source: Supplied

At 36 weeks, Harley underwent a ligation to close the hole in his heart at the Royal Children’s Hospital.

I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t do anything but cry and worry that my little Warrior boy wasn’t going to make it. 

Those days in NICU were both incredible and also the most traumatic experience of my life. I sat in a wheelchair all day long and for the following 120 days, I never left his side for 12+ hours a day.” 

Throughout the incredibly emotional journey, Kate was supported by the incredible NICU team as well as Life’s Little Treasures Foundation, which is  Australia’s foremost charity dedicated to supporting the families of babies born sick or before 37 weeks gestation.

The staff are our fairy godmothers and godfathers. Their efforts to keep your child alive and keep you calm are phenomenal to say the least. We owe them everything. 

On Mother’s Day, I walked into a present from Harley via the Life’s Little Treasures Foundation and I just burst into tears. When you have a prem, you miss out on so much. No one prepares you to not bring your baby home.

But the Life’s Little Treasures Foundation put on morning tea events that allowed us to meet other families who were going through a similar situation. It gave us a chance to share our story and know we weren’t alone.”

Harley's incredible NICU journey
Source: Supplied

After 120 long days, Harley finally arrived home. He is now a bubbly five-month-old who loves his strolls, the shower and listening to music. Whilst he still has a feeding tube, his heart issues have all been resolved.

Harley is so resilient and I am so proud of him. We are incredibly blessed. I don’t know what we would do without him. I never knew I needed him this much.

I still doubt myself now as a mum because it is hard to dress him, I worry my brain injury is affecting his care but I have an incredible husband. We are a team and Harley is our reason for never giving up. He is our miracle child. And I am his mother.” 

NICU Journey - Harley and Kate
Source: Supplied

Celebrate and Share your Story on World Prematurity Day 

Many are not aware that today 17th November 2023, is World Prematurity Day, a day where we celebrate every little fighter and the brave families sitting next to them in the NICU.

It’s also a day to raise awareness of World Prematurity Day by sharing your own stories via social media (use the hashtag #76borntoosoon)or taking part in Light it Purple.

If you’re able to, donating to Life’s Little Treasures Foundation is also a wonderful way to help these miracle babies and ensure they continue to receive the support they need and deserve. Find out more at Life’s Little Treasures Foundation.

And thank you to Kate for letting us share your incredible journey so far.

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Avatar of Jenna Galley

Born and raised in Canada, Jenna now lives in Far North Queensland with her tribe. When the mum-of-three is not writing, you can find her floating in the pool, watching princess movies, frolicking on the beach, bouncing her baby to sleep or nagging her older kids to put on their pants.

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