How a zip lock sandwich bag helped save premature baby

Bella Torkington was born at just 25 weeks gestation.
Bella Torkington was born at just 25 weeks gestation.  Photo: Photo: Supplied

Bella Torkington wasn't expected to survive when she was born at 25 weeks on a bathroom floor, but a sandwich bag and a sock helped her defy the odds.

Baby Bella is now a picture of health, squawking and sucking her fingers and toes as she sits on mother Rachael Sibley, while dad Kyle Torkington tickles her knee. The scene at the family home in West Melton, west of Christchurch, New Zealand on Tuesday is a far cry from the traumatic night of her birth on July 22, 2017.

Sibley began feeling stomach cramps, but never considered she might be in labour as her baby was not due until November. By 11.30pm, the contractions were only four minutes apart and Sibley called her midwife, who advised her to see a doctor at Christchurch Women's Hospital. She woke Torkington and was about to get dressed when her waters broke. Torkington called emergency, but an ambulance could not get to the house in time. 

Rachael Sibley and Kyle Torkington's baby, Bella, was born early at 25 weeks.
Rachael Sibley and Kyle Torkington's baby, Bella, was born early at 25 weeks. Photo: George Head/Stuff

Torkington was still on the phone to a St John call centre operator when Sibley had two more "horrific" contractions and Bella was born on the bathroom floor. 

While the birth was happening, St John paramedics Steve Pudney and Olivia Burns sped towards the house in an ambulance and prepared their response. 

"We had discussed a plan on the way out about how we were going to resuscitate her and ventilation rations and CPR ratios for someone that small," Pudney said.

Torkington said baby Bella's condition began to deteriorate quickly while they waited for help to arrive.

"When she came out she initially made a bit of a squeak, but then all of a sudden she went all blue in the face and just didn't make any noise."

The operator told him he was "going to have to breathe for her".

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He began chest compressions and gave her breaths through her nose and mouth at the same time, continuing until the paramedics got there. 

"I had to be very gentle and there were all these gurgling noises and it was pretty scary," he said.

Pudney and Burns found Sibley's tiny baby was still attached to her by the umbilical cord. 

Burns struggled to hide her shock at the situation. 

"I'd never seen something that small. I picked her up and she was perfect, her little fingers – that's the one image I will always carry – her little fingers, she was perfect in every way.

"You pick her up and you will her to live, she's fighting . . . she wants to be here, she's fighting hard to stay here and I'm going to move heaven and earth just to give her the chance."

Although Bella's heartbeat was strong, she was taking only six breaths a minute – not enough to sustain her life, Burns said.  

She held a child-sized oxygen mask – big enough to cover the infant's entire head – in place while Pudney monitored Bella's heart with a stethoscope. 

"We had to figure out how fast her heart was going . . . it can get quite complicated whether we add oxygen or not because too much oxygen is quite detrimental to a child that small," Pudney said. 

He cut the umbilical cord and kept Bella warm with plastic wrap and a zip lock bag from her parent's kitchen.

He kept her head warm by cutting the toe off one of Torkington's socks to use as a miniature beanie.

The paramedics cranked up the heating in the ambulance for the tense ride to Christchurch Women's Hospital. 

Staff there were waiting with an incubator and rushed Bella to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) as soon as she arrived.

Torkington and Sibley asked them to do everything they could to save her, despite knowing the odds were stacked against her. 

Baby Bella spent five months in the NICU and did defy those odds. Her parents were finally able to take her home on December 4. 

- STUFF NZ