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'Alexander the Great' Parents overjoyed as son eats food for the first time after 19 months of tube feeding

Parents' relief as surgeries give hope to families of premature babies like 'Alexander the Great'

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Toddler Alex can now eat after his surgery

Toddler Alex can now eat after his surgery

Toddler Alex can now eat after his surgery

Toddler Alex Cobane has started enjoying biscuits for the first time - the latest little victory in the extraordinary first years of his life.

Born 15 weeks premature, Alex arrived into the world with several serious health issues as doctors battled to save his life.

Now the 19-month-old has passed his latest hurdle following surgery which means he can eat food for the first time.

"Up until two weeks ago he was fed by a tube which went up his nose and down the back of his throat. It made him sick a lot," said mum Ann-Marie Gallen. But two weeks ago Alex had his fourth surgery in the care of top surgeon Sinead Hassett at Children's Health Ireland in Crumlin, which enables him to be fed directly into his tummy. It has transformed his life.

"He's had his fourth surgery with Sinead. Since then he has been thriving. It's called a button and we can put food straight into his tummy.

"It also means he's been able to start feeding orally. Little bits of toast and Ranchero crisps and biscuits. I can't even describe the relief. Sinead has saved his life and now has made his quality of life so much better," said his mum.

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Alex was just 1lb 4oz when he was born
prematurely last year

Alex was just 1lb 4oz when he was born prematurely last year

Alex was just 1lb 4oz when he was born prematurely last year

"Christmas time last year was really hard because he wasn't gaining weight. We were all so stressed and we knew that we needed to feed him. It was soul destroying."

Parents Ann-Marie and Daniel were initially reluctant to put Alex through the surgery because he's already had so many in his short life. But Ann-Marie, who works in cardiac theatre in the hospital, said she knew he was being treated "by the best of the best".

"We went for it and are so, so glad that we did.

"His and our quality of life has changed so much. I've been on the other side for so long in my job and there I was on the other side as a parent of a premature baby. I found that extremely frightening, but I was among friends."

Alex - or Alexander the Great as he's now known - weighed just 1lb 4oz when he was born last year, and in the early days the outlook for him was grave. The family credit the dedication and care of staff at Crumlin with saving his life.

"All of a sudden Daniel and I had an extremely premature, extremely low birth weight baby in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), a world we never knew existed. A world full of critically ill, innocent, fragile, brand new human beings fighting with the strength of a super human just to stay alive.

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"I cannot explain how tiny he was, hooked up to so many beeping machines, with wires that startled him when he accidentally touched them. But no matter how sick Alex was, everybody facilitated us bonding with him," adds his mum, who got to cuddle him for the first time when he was 21 days old.

Thanks to the great care from staff at the Coombe maternity hospital, Alex was initially doing really well - but after a few days he became gravely ill. A diagnosis of a complication in babies called NEC was confirmed and he was brought to Crumlin for emergency surgery.

Multiple procedures in Crumlin took place over the following months. But at 33 weeks the family was dealt another tough blow - Alex had Retinopathy of Prematurity, a serious eye disease linked to oxygen therapy for premature babies. Laser eye surgery didn't work and he was flown by the air corps to the UK for further surgery, which was successful.

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"We feared he would never see this beautiful world that he fought so hard to be part of. I can assure you he sees everything," said Ann-Marie.

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Dad Daniel reads to tiny baby Alex

Dad Daniel reads to tiny baby Alex

Dad Daniel reads to tiny baby Alex

"Today Alex is 19 months old, he has continued to defy all the odds that were stacked against him. He is a content and happy little toddler learning to explore the world around him."

She added that medical staff continue to support her family on an ongoing basis.

"We continue to visit the opthamology team, the gastrointestinal team, the neonatology team, the speech and language team, and the dietitian in CHI Crumlin regularly.

"Alex also receives physiotherapy and other early interventions at home, and catches up with his close friends in the Coombe for regular check-ins. It's a busy and often stressful life but we are eternally grateful for every single individual who has helped Alex along his journey. We have made lifelong friends from a time of grave isolation and loneliness.

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"He's had so many little victories. I just want to give people hope, because there were times when we were so desperate."

This week marked World Prematurity Day and CHI Crumlin's Director of Nursing, Tracey Wall, said the neonatal team have already supported more than 60 pre-term babies with prematurity related complications so far this year.

"World Prematurity Day aims to raise awareness around issues related to preterm birth, and optimising development and outcomes for preterm infants to ensure that they reach their full potential," she said.

"In CHI at Crumlin, we want to celebrate all of the exceptional preterm infants and families that have come through our doors. We want them to feel supported on their journey and to know that they are not alone."

  • CHI Crumlin recently launched its Christmas Toy Appeal. For more information check out cmrf.org/stories/christmas-toy-appeal

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