Hear today by tori hoffmann
When Tasmyn Oberholster, now 29, went into early labour at 37 weeks with her second son Owen Oberholster in October 2010, the last thing she expected was complications. She’d had a stress-free, easy pregnancy. She’d been on maternity leave since the start of her third trimester. And she was ready and looking forward to her elective caesar that was scheduled for 39 weeks gestation. But on the morning of Owen’s birth, Tasmyn’s healthy pregnancy took a turn for the worse. Intense, excruciating back pain took her off to the Netcare Blaauwberg in Cape Town for an emergency caesar where, mere minutes before Owen was delivered via emergency caesar, her placenta ruptured on the operating table causing Owen to drown in utero. As a result, three-year old Owen is hearing impaired today, but the outcome could have been so much worse. Not only could his traumatic birth experience and five weeks in ICU have left him not walking or talking. But had Tasmyn’s emergency caesar happened ten minutes later, neither Owen nor Tasmyn would be here today and they are lucky to be alive.
“On the morning of October 8 I woke up at about 7am with a bit of a pain in my lower back. While running a bath at 8am, the pain shot all the way across the front of my stomach, and it felt very weird. I knew something was wrong, and I phoned my mother-in-law for help, as my husband was an hour and a half away at work in Worcester. By the time she got to my house a few minutes later, I couldn’t even move the pain was so severe and I felt nauseous. She got me to the hospital 2km away and I was taken straight to the maternity ward where I was prepped for theater,” says Tasmyn.
It was here that Tasmyn met the specialist doctor who saved her life – Dr Brand – who was new in town and the doctor who happened to be on duty the day Owen was born.
“As I leant forward for my spinal block, and my husband came running into the theater, I was hit by a final pain. This was the abruption of my placenta (premature separation of the placenta from the uterus before Owen was delivered) that caused my baby to loose vast amounts of blood,” explains Tasmyn, adding that after Owen was delivered, Dr Brand had to manually contract her uterus for 45 minutes and inserted a B-Lyn stitch around her uterus to control the bleeding.
As soon as Owen was delivered Tasmyn noticed that her 2.8kg baby boy wasn’t crying. And according to Neonatologist Dr Dippenaar, Owen’s Apgars recorded as zero, zero and zero indicating at 1 minute, 5 minutes and 10 minutes after birth.
“Owen had no heartbeat and he wasn’t breathing. He was essentially a stillborn and after a prolonged period of resuscitation including full cardiac massage and multiple doses of adrenalin, we finally attained a weak heartbeat approximately 11 minutes after birth.
“Owen was intubated in theater and subsequently transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit at Blaauwberg Netcare Hospital following successful resuscitation,” he says.
Meanwhile, Tasmyn was rushed off to ICU too. She’d lost seven litres of blood and Dr Brand told her husband, Brandon, that if his wife were going to live, she’d have to stop bleeding and pull through the next critical 12 hours. At the same time, Dr Dippenaar told Brandon that if his son were going to make it, he’d have to survive the next four hours.
“Dr Dippenaar then explained to my husband that in order to save Owen’s brain, he needed to ‘freeze’ it for three days and give it a chance to repair itself – something that is possible in children under 6 who drown. It’s known as hypothermic treatment and, although tested overseas, is a rare and relatively new treatment in South Africa. It’s not covered by medical aids, as its results are not guaranteed. Regardless, Brandon decided to go for it and after three days of the induced coma, Owen was woken up on Day 4,” recalls Tasmyn, who came out of ICU herself on the third day.
“Had they not done the treatment, Owen would have been brain damaged and we would have had to turn off the machines. Instead, a brain MRI at N1 City Hospital on Day 7 revealed that there was no immediate damage to Owen’s brain – although things could still go wrong,” she says.
Despite three to four seizures a day and being on every kind of life support and monitoring machine possible for three weeks, Owen made it and was released after five weeks in NICU once his feeding issues were resolved. It was a heart-wrenching, agonising time for Tasmyn who only got to hold her baby for the first time when he was three weeks old, and it was incredibly challenging too.
“I hadn’t planned to breastfeed Owen. But on Day 4 when Dr Dippenaar told me that it would be either be my milk or a donor’s milk that Owen would get, I started to pump. I only got 1ml per pump every three hours which was incredibly frustrating, but I gradually increased the amount to 2ml and by Day 7, I got 30ml per pump and he only needed 7ml – so I was ahead of target. “When I struggled – I remained strong during the day but cried a lot at night – Dr Dippenaar encouraged me to stick a picture of Owen onto the pump so that I could physically see what I was pumping for. When I did that, the milk just flowed.”
After everything that her baby had been through, Tasmyn didn’t expect life post discharge to be smooth sailing and she wasn’t surprised when Owen failed his ear tests at 6 weeks and again at three months. At 6 months, he had another brain MRI where it was revealed that her miracle baby could possibly be deaf and many tests and visits later it was confirmed, at 8 months, that Owen was indeed hearing impaired.
“We were so joyous that, so far, this was all that was wrong with our boy. Besides, I already knew. Owen was such a quiet baby who slept through the night right from the start. I’d also been told by an expert audiologist at 6 months (when he could sit and turn his head) to monitor Owen’s reactions to sound. I could tell that he didn’t notice when his brother entered the room. And he only heard extremely loud noises like banging doors or the sounds of the rubbish removal guys,” she maintains.
Since Owen’s case wasn’t severe enough for a cochlear implants, when he was 10 months old, he was the very first baby in South Africa to be fitted with the world’s smallest, external hearing aids – the extremely advanced Widex Baby440. Without it, Owen has less than twenty percent hearing. But as soon as each R27 500 unit is switched on, his hearing sits at about ninety percent clarity.
“I’ll never forget the day he was fitted. He wasn’t in the best of spirits as everyone was fiddling with his ears including the director of Widex who’d flown down to Cape Town for the ‘event’. But as soon as we got into out bakkie and the engine started up, his little eyes just lit up like you could not believe and I knew – my baby boy could hear. Watching him turn his head to listen to the sounds of trucks and sirens as we drove home, and seeing him hear his brother when we got home, brought tears to our eyes. After that, he smiled more, he engaged more, and his personality completely changed,” beams Tasmyn.
At first, Owen had to stay home to adapt to his hearing aids that have never really bothered him – he knows they help him – and receive one on one attention. But today he attends Carel du Toit School For The Hearing Impaired And Deaf and he is excelling at everything and is top of his class. He’s very physical and fit and four months shy of his third birthday, has just started talking properly and stringing 5-word sentences together which is incredible considering he only said “Mama” for the first time at age 2. What’s more, when his hearing aids come off at night, Tasmyn has noticed that he can lip read too.
“Since he couldn’t hear for that first year, he’s a year behind so to speak. But he’s caught up so nicely since being at school for a term since, that by the time he’s 6, the school (who’s been monitoring him since he was 1 on a weekly basis for speech therapy) reckons he may be able to attend a mainstream school. He still doesn’t pronounce everything clearly, and he definitely has fewer words than other kids his age. But my boy is clever – he can sing the alphabet song and can do things that even his older brother can’t do. He’s special – just like Dr Dippenaar joked in ICU that he would be. And he’s alive which, at the end of the day, is all that really counts.”