Celebrating three years of service helping to save hundreds of babies’ lives

Parents and babies joined the team to celebrate the third anniversary of the pre-term birth clinic

By Liz Baker

Parents whose babies were born thanks to intervention from a specialist hospital team returned to thank staff and celebrate the service’s third anniversary.

The pre-term birth clinic at the Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Hospital in Margate and William Harvey Hospital in Ashford has helped hundreds of families welcome healthy babies who were at risk of being born early.

It was established in March 2021, and families returned to QEQM for the anniversary and to show off their little ones – including Kimberly Meecham, from Ramsgate, who is now the proud mum of two children thanks to the clinic.

Teddy, now two, was joined by little sister Rue at the start of March and the team, led by consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Aylur Rajasri, cared for Kimberly during both pregnancies. She had lost her first baby at 20 weeks.

She said: “We will be forever grateful to the whole team for everything they have done for us. We would not have our family without their care and intervention.”

People who have had previous premature births, or who have other risk factors including surgery to their cervix, or previous miscarriages, can be referred to the clinic by their midwife and will be seen until they reach their third trimester. Complex cases are discussed with colleagues in London for their advice and input.

Babies born before 28 weeks of pregnancy have a much higher risk of ongoing health issues, and the chances of survival increase the later a baby is delivered.

Morven Crocker and baby Isla with Jess Toohey, Sally Smith and Dr Aylur Rajasri

Morven Crocker, 38, from Sandwich, brought eight-month-old Isla to meet the team.

She and her husband tried for four years to conceive and Morven was considered high-risk due to previous surgery to her uterus.

She said: “I was seeing the team every week at one point and I was petrified, but they were so reassuring and I knew I was in good hands.

“I had amazing care and if it wasn’t for the way they looked after me I wouldn’t have Isla.”

Shanice Marchant, 30, from Ramsgate, had a previous premature birth at just 22 weeks into her pregnancy, and the baby sadly did not survive. The team were able to use a cervical stitch to help ensure baby Oaklie, now four months, did not arrive early. The same technique was used for her older daughter Emmie.

Shanice said: “It was so comforting to be under the care of the team and a relief to know they were looking after us.

“Neither of my children would be here without their intervention.”

Jess Toohey with Shiona Easter and baby George

Shiona Easter, 40, from Broadstairs, was able to welcome her fourth child George, now seven months, after treatment from the team following the removal of part of her cervix.

She said: “They saved George’s life. He wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them.

“They were absolutely fantastic and would often call to check in if things were tough. I can’t fault the care I received and I’m so grateful to have George.”

The team – Dr Rajasri, the lead consultant for the preterm service, preterm lead midwife Jess Toohey, and fetal wellbeing midwife Poppy Corrall – have monitored almost 1,000 people at risk of premature birth since 2021. The service offers a range of surveillance scans and treatment to prevent extreme premature births and help babies arrive safely.

Dr Rajasri said: “It was wonderful to see some of ‘our’ babies and hear how well they are doing after what was often a difficult and stressful pregnancy.

“We feel hugely privileged to be able to make a difference to so many families and I am very grateful to my team of midwives, health care assistants, admin and reception staff whose dedicated support allows the service to run effectively.

“Our pre-term birth rate has dropped dramatically since we started the service, especially the very early delivery before 28 weeks, which means so many babies’ lives have been saved.

“Our patients are at the heart of everything we do and we do our best to provide reassurance and support at the most worrying time in their life.

“Every baby safely born is cause for celebration and we were delighted so many could join us for this anniversary.”

The team now see twice as many families as when they started, and share good practice with other units across the country. They presented data demonstrating their success at a national conference in Liverpool and are now focusing on incorporating research into their work.