When every minute counts

30 Nov 1999

Less than 24 hours after Natasha brought her newborn baby Halle home, it became clear something was very wrong. Halle felt so cold. Natasha couldn’t get her warm.

By the next morning, there was no improvement in Halle’s condition, and Natasha and her husband Jonathan were very worried. “I knew this wasn’t normal,” Natasha says. They took Halle straight to their local hospital in Tumut, southern NSW. Halle was placed in an infant warmer, but her temperature stayed dangerously low. “She was basically hypothermic,” says Natasha.

As Halle’s condition continued to worsen, the six-day-old baby was then rushed via ambulance to Wagga Wagga Base Hospital for further intervention. They discovered Halle’s liver was failing. She needed the most specialised neonatal care available in NSW. “The doctor said: ‘We’ve got to get her to The Children’s Hospital at Westmead in Sydney’,” remembers Natasha. “I was freaking out.”

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The Grace Centre for Newborn Intensive Care at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead was five hours away by road, but Halle had to get there much quicker as she was going downhill. She also needed neonatal intensive care support in transit, a very specialised service. So, a call was lodged with the Newborn and paediatric Emergency Transport Service (NETS) requesting an air ambulance. “There was no other way to get Halle to hospital this safely and quickly,” Natasha says.

The NETS team soon arrived and at midnight the seriously ill baby and her mum boarded with a specialist paediatric nurse and doctor. Fitted with high tech equipment,  the NETS plane is an intensive care unit in the sky, swiftly connecting the sickest babies in remote and regional NSW with the life-saving medical care they need. Natasha was in shock, and everything was a blur, but she’ll never forget the way the NETS team worked intently to keep Halle alive.

“It didn’t feel like we were on the plane long,” Natasha recalls. “I couldn’t see much, but I could hear the machines beeping and every time something went off, the NETS team would reassure me Halle was doing ok. I liked how the NETS team never spoke down to me. They gave me all the information I needed to keep me grounded.”

Thanks to NETS and people like you who support this life-saving service, Halle was kept stable and was in the care of the Grace Centre for Newborn Intensive Care within hours, giving her every chance to survive. It was discovered her liver failure had been caused by an enterovirus, which are usually mild but can be deadly to newborns. “It was as though her body went ‘something's really wrong. I'm going to stop heating everything, except my heart and my brain’, which is why she was so cold,” explains Natasha.

There was no cure or treatment for this virus, but the huge team of doctors, with world class resources at their fingertips was best placed to keep Halle as healthy as possible, so she could fight this. The tired mum and dad kept a vigil and coped by adding reflections and photos of her little girl to a journal gifted by the hospital.

An agonising four weeks after they touched down with NETS in Sydney, doctors gave Natasha and Jonathan the remarkable news that “she’s going to be ok”. It was only then they learnt just one in four babies like Halle will survive.

Today, Halle is a happy, healthy five-year-old and has just started kindergarten. Natasha knows how different things could have been without NETS and people like you who help fund this life-saving service:

“Halle wouldn’t be here without NETS,” she says. “Neonatal care is so different to other care and while our country hospitals are amazing, they don’t have those services. We need to get these experts out here to us on a plane, and it can’t happen without money. It’s thanks to the people who support NETS that we have our little girl.”

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