Premature baby who weighed less than 1kg at birth to celebrate first Christmas at home

A baby who was born so premature she wasn’t able to drink her mother’s milk has made a miraculous recovery to be able to return home for Christmas.

Little Marley Hayes was completely dwarfed by her octopus toy when she was born, weighing just 750g, but she now towers over the fluffy sea creature.

New mum, Sophie Louise James, 30, was just 25 weeks pregnant when her waters broke in April 2022.

Doctors at Doncaster Hospital, Doncaster attempted to keep the baby inside Sophie’s womb for as long as possible but just four days later, Sophie went into labour and gave birth to a tiny Marley naturally.

The newborn arrived on April 2 and weighed so little that doctors feared she wouldn’t make it. Marley was whisked straight to NICU where medics battled against a complex list of health issues, including renal failure and a bleed on the brain.

She also had dangerous calcium levels which meant she was unable to drink breast milk. But after 102 days in hospital battling back to health, Marley, now seven months old, and weighing 9lb 9oz, was allowed home and is now thriving.

The family have planned to go ”all out” for Christmas this year to celebrate their miracle baby.

Sophie, a primary school teacher from Doncaster, said: “At one point we didn’t even think she’d see her first Christmas. It was something I didn’t even dare hope for.”

“She’s always got her octopus toy with her too, she’s had him from day one so it’s really amazing to see how much she’s grown. We’re going to spend our first Christmas just the three of us.”

Sophie and partner Lloyd Hayes, 30, a rugby player and personal trainer, found they were expecting in November 2021.

She said: “We had a private scan at 17 weeks to find out what we were having. I had to have extra scans anyway because I had Polyhydramnios, which is where there’s too much fluid around the baby in the womb.”

The pregnancy was normal, until 25 weeks when the teacher noticed a leak in her trousers.

The worried pair rushed to Doncaster Hospital where they were seen in A&E. An ultrasound confirmed Sophie’s waters had definitely broken, but doctors suggested trying to keep the baby in the womb for as long as it was safe to.

Sophie continued: “They said they weren’t equipped at Doncaster to look after her if she did come early, so we were transferred to Bolton Hospital for four days. I was discharged at 4pm, because there was 72-hour monitoring window. Doctors said if she didn’t come within that time frame, she’d probably stay within my womb. So we left the hospital, but my contractions started at 4.30pm.

“At first I just thought it was pains but after rushing back to hospital by 7pm they told me I was actually in labour. I remember feeling quite sleepy and I was very in and out of it. I was just dealing with the pain, and I didn’t have time to really think about what was going to happen next.”

Doctors at Leighton Hospital, Cheshire, waited as long as they could, but by 5am the next day were preparing to perform an emergency C-section due to risk of infection.

She said: “They did one last check before I went to theatre and I was suddenly 10 centimetres dilated. They said you need to push right now. Three pushes and our baby girl, Marley was out.”

Marley Hayes was born at 5.57am on 2nd April 2022, weighing just 750g and taken straight to an intensive care until. Sophie’s umbilical cord snapped after she failed to deliver the placenta, and surgery was needed to remove it straight away.

The family were all transferred to Arrowe Park Hospital, The Wirral, Liverpool, where they would all spend the next eight weeks, with little Marley living in the NICU. Sophie and Lloyd were ”glued to her side”, willing her to get stronger.

Sophie said: “All we saw was Marley, and we thought we’ve got to deal with this. The doctors said she would need everything doing for her to keep her alive, so she was incubated and put straight on a ventilator.

“We visited her everyday, and from the 23rd April we were able to move into a room at the Ronald McDonald house on the Arrowe site, and we’re so grateful for their support.”

At just two days old, Marley was diagnosed with hypercalcaemia – which is where the calcium level in the blood is higher than normal.

Sophie explained: “Doctors were stumped about why it was happening. In the end she was taken off calcium completely.

“So that meant she was taken off my breast milk and was living on bags of vitamins. She barely grew in four weeks. Then she started on a low calcium version of formula called Locasol, and eventually she was allowed my breast milk.”

Little Marley also suffered with renal failure as a result of the hypercalcaemia and had a bleed on the brain. On May 13, a bed became available at the family’s local hospital in Doncaster, so they were able to move closer to home.

After just over three months in hospital, Sophie and Lloyd ”desperately” wanted Marley to reach 4lb- the weight she would need to be to go home.

She said: “Two weeks before we came home, she suddenly got better. It seemed as her body developed and it sorted itself out, and the issues resolved themselves. It was amazing. She clearly just needed a bit of time and she was right as rain.”

On July 13, Sophie and Lloyd took Marley home to their house in Bawtry, Doncaster. Now seven months old and thriving, proud mum Sophie can’t wait to celebrate Christmas with her miracle baby.

“We cannot wait to have a first Christmas as a family of three, it’s just going to be amazing,” Sophie said.