“My little girl can’t swallow”

Jasmine Lee’s world came crashing down when her baby was born with several serious health issues, including problems swallowing.

“I delivered Sarah via an elective Caesarean at 38 weeks on the advice of my doctor who, after examining my baby, said she wasn’t gaining any weight in the womb. I wasn’t overly worried as my prenatal scans hadn’t detected anything out of the ordinary. My concern then was for the doctor to beef up her weight, post-delivery.

          Days before the op at Thomson Medical Centre, my husband contracted hand, foot and mouth disease from our elder son, Jovan, then 1½ years. As he was unable to accompany me to the hospital, we had to communicate through a webcam.

          After Sarah was born, the doctors said that she had a small receding chin and her cries were soft and husky (stridor or noisy breathing). I managed to hold my newborn briefly before she was whisked away to the intensive care unit (ICU) to be examined by an ear, nose and throat specialist. While there, doctors cleared her blocked airways of phlegm — they also told me she’d be all right after that.

         The next day, the paediatrician said that Sarah couldn’t tolerate her milk feeds, nor was she sucking properly. That evening, my baby was transferred to the high-dependency ward at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital where we were told that she has nerve palsy on the left side of her face.

        It grieved us to see our baby’s tiny body attached to all sorts of wires and tubes. My heart broke to see Sarah getting milk through the nose via a nasogastric tube that went into the stomach. The doctors also scanned her brain and tested her airways. They told us that Sarah couldn’t swallow because of her small receding chin and the abnormal positioning of her voice box, which further narrowed her airways. It’s why she produces excess secretions, which require frequent suctioning to clear her mouth and nose. An ultrasound scan of her heart also showed a tiny hole, though that closed eventually.

          On realising that our little girl has special needs that require specific medical attention, we Googled her conditions and consulted other specialists. During Sarah’s first month in the high-dependency ward, there were many episodes where her oxygen level would drop to below 95 per cent — when it’s normally 95 to 100 per cent. At times, she even turned blue and doctors had to revive her by bagging her. To help Sarah breathe better, the doctors suggested a tracheostomy procedure. My husband and I didn’t think twice — Sarah was a little over a month old when she had the tracheostomy operation.

Photo: INGimage