The Little Roo Neonatal Fund, formerly known as The Early Births Fund, is celebrating 20 years since it was ﬁrst set up to support the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at St Peter’s Hospital, part of Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (ASPH).
The fund, which is part of the ASPH Charity, marked this milestone with a Little Roo Legends Birthday Picnic which was held at Greenﬁeld School in Woking, on 10th September 2023. The event received an overwhelming amount of support from families who have been supported by Little Roo, as places were fully booked within a matter of hours.
The event brought together families who have been supported by the fund since it was launched in 2003, as well as ASPH staﬀ members who work in the NICU to celebrate Little Roo and the amazing support they have provided to families and staﬀ over the years. It was also an opportunity for families to reconnect with staﬀ and other families with a shared experience of NICU.
Twenty years ago, the fund was set up with the aim of raising £250,000 to provide additional intensive care cots for the NICU and was achieved within just two years. Since then, the fund has continued to support families, babies and staﬀ so that the St Peter’s Neonatal Unit is able to continue to oﬀer the highest standards of intensive care for babies born in Surrey and further aﬁeld.
Some of the key projects and initiatives Little Roo have funded to date include eight intensive care cots which cost in the region of £80,000 each to fully equip, an ultrasound machine, equipment to help babies breathe, a breast milk pasteuriser and aids to promote development as well as devices for monitoring brain wave and proving cooling treatment for potential brain injury. Additionally, a four bed parents’ accommodation was built and renovated over the years to provide comfortable stay for the families.
Sid Hurry, Little Roo Neonatal Fund Manager, said: “We are extremely grateful to all those who have donated to the fund and help raise the proﬁle of the work that we do to support patients, families and staﬀ. The donations we receive help us to fund vital pieces of equipment to treat babies, support family initiatives, as well as staﬀ training and wellbeing.
“The support we receive from families who have been cared for by the NICU and our staﬀ, has made it possible for Little Roo to continue to support ongoing need for equipment and to improve the facilities and experience for families on the unit for two decades - and hopefully many more!”
Here are some personal examples from the families supported by our fund;
Isla Briggs was born at 23 weeks + 5 days at another hospital in 2010, weighing just one pound. Her mother Phi Briggs went into early labour at home and was rushed to hospital by ambulance. It was decided that she needed to go straight to the delivery ward, where Isla was born quickly and required resuscitation. Isla was then prepared so that she could be transported to the NICU at St Peter’s Hospital late that night.
Isla spent the first three weeks of her life being cared for at the NICU where she became very poorly with Necrotising Enterocolitis (NEC). Phi and her husband Nick were advised to stay at the hospital, where they stayed in the Unit’s parent accommodation for three nights, as Isla was in a critical condition. On the fourth day, Isla had stabilised, but she was still extremely unwell and needed to be transferred to another hospital in London for further investigations and subsequent bowel surgery at 27 weeks gestation, where she was cared for for a further six months before being discharged home back to her parents.
Speaking about her family’s experience on the NICU, Phi, said: “It is all a real blur, as we went from one day to the next, trying to cope with having such a premature baby on the Unit and watching so helplessly to everything our little girl had to go through. She was absolutely tiny, ventilated and covered all over in tubes. It was desperate to see. The staff were all wonderful and one nurse who we particularly grew very fond of was Helen, who I’m pleased to say we’re still in touch with today. She comforted us through the darkest of days when Isla became sick for the first time with a life-threatening gut infection, which she had three times in total. We always looked forward to Helen looking after Isla. She had such a lovely, caring, gentle way about her and we just felt particularly at ease when she was in charge.
“Doctor Reynolds was one of the Consultants on the Unit at the time. When Isla was incredibly sick, he always took the time to explain everything that was happening and of the extremely unique situation we faced due to her extreme prematurity. My husband Nick always remembers Doctor Reynolds saying one day “Isla is a true fighter and she is re-writing medical history books every day”! This gave us a lot of hope during a very traumatic time.
“We will forever be grateful for the incredible care Isla received on the Neonatal Unit at St Peter's, the staff were truly amazing.”
Pictured top and above: Mia Peirson-Hagger
Mia Peirson-Hagger was cared for by the NICU staff at St Peter’s on two occasions. She was born at full term in 2007 with Meconium Aspiration Syndrome (MAS) at St Peter’s Hospital. She was moved from the maternity ward at St Peter’s to the NICU where she was cared for 10 hours before being transferred to a hospital in London for further care. When she was stable enough to, where she was put onto an ECMO machine to help support her heart and lungs and deliver oxygen into her blood. After five nights, she was successfully taken off the machine and safely transferred back to the NICU.
When talking about Mia’s return to NICU, her mother Sharon Peirson-Hagger, said: “When she returned she was treated like a minor celebrity due to the seriousness of the condition when she left. The whole NICU unit were so pleased to see us all again, they had been in close communication with the London hospital teams and we’d even received virtual hugs from the NICU nurses via the nurses in London, everyone was so delighted to be part of her road to recovery home. This welcome really cheered us up and we were so pleased to be back in the intensive care unit. I know this sounds so strange but we knew there were worse places to be with a newborn then here.
“After a week Mia had the ventilator removed and we heard her voice for the first time since her birth. It was music to our ears. The same day we were allowed to hold Mia in our arms. This is a moment we will never forget. We spent the time just crying, with both relief and joy. The nurses were so good at letting us know when something was going to happen like removing stitches or moving rooms, so we could make sure at least one of us were there. They were also amazing at letting us be Mia’s parents by allowing us to change her nappies, give her a little wash and hold her whenever we could. These thoughtful moments were so important for all of us.
“Sometimes we would struggle with all the information we were given and processing everything that Mia had been through. All the nurses and Doctor Lawson were always very patient with us and would listen to our questions and explain everything carefully. This really helped us process what we had all been through.
“The nurses were really good at helping us plan and get ready for taking Mia home. Although we really wanted this, we were very nervous about taking her out of the safety of the NICU unit. The nurses were great at teaching us how to monitor Mia’s SATs, do some basic first aid and use the oxygen cylinder she needed. We were given the parents accommodation for a couple of night to ‘room in’ which meant we could look after Mia within the safety of the NICU and build our confidence in parenting. Her after care and check-ups were all set up before we left so we knew we had the support from the NICU with us.
“We can never express our deep thanks and gratitude to all the staff in the NICU unit. It was the most amazing Christmas present ever to get Mia home!”
Mum Sharon and her family regularly keep in touch with members of the team who cared for Mia. They have supported the fund through various events over the years and organised two charity balls raising a combined total of £43,000, with £20,000 of the total being donated to Little Roo.
Henry Rickett was born nine weeks early at St Peter’s Hospital in 2006 and spent six weeks being cared for on the NICU. Henry spent his first two weeks in the incubator room on the Unit where he was also treated for jaundice.
Talking about the family’s experience on NICU, Henry’s father Matthew Rickett, explained: “We were told that the babies graduate through the three levels of care at the ward and they hoped he would be able to leave in eight to nine weeks time. I was so terrified to hold him when he was so little and in the incubator, the pipes and tubes were so scary! He had some jaundice too so he spent a lot of time under the ‘lamp’ which was also really scary for me to see, but the staff explained everything to us and made sure we knew everything that was happening and the reasons why.
“Once he got into his cot, I felt like we were making progress and it started to feel so real to me and I had my first cuddle. It was then a race to get him home and he left NICU three weeks before his due date after six weeks in the ward.
“Henry was strong and fit but just needed a little extra care and attention which the ward and staff provided with first class professionalism and knowledge. The start they gave Henry, and us as young first-time parents lives long in my memory and I have been grateful ever since.”
Dad Matthew continues to support the Little Roo Neonatal Fund through various fundraising activities over the years, which have included running marathons and half marathons, walking 65km in 24 hours, shaving his head and nominating Little Roo for a £1,000 donation through his work.
Little Roo Neonatal Fund is running a campaign to raise funds to mark it’s 20th anniversary. If you’re interested in making a donation, please visit www.justgiving.com/campaign/20thbirthday