World Prematurity Day: pound for pound, the best fighter in the world

Tipperary couple feared the worst when Michelle went into labour after just 23 weeks

Michelle Fitzgerald (37) never thought she would be able to conceive children, after several years trying without success with her husband Patrick (39).

The couple could not afford IVF treatment from their own resources, but their treatment was funded by charity Pomegranate, who assist couples with infertility issues, and Michelle successfully conceived twins in 2015.

However, Michelle went into labour after 23 weeks of the pregnancy and gave birth to both babies prematurely at Cork University Maternity Hospital. She said doctors advised both her and Patrick that the babies would likely not survive.

Tyler was born weighing one pound and one ounce, and sadly passed away shortly after birth.


However, Sophia – weighing just one pound when she was born – is now two years old.

Friday is the ninth annual World Prematurity Day, and the Irish Neonatal Health Alliance will be holding a medical symposium in Dublin city centre, where they will launch an educational guide for parents who have children born prematurely. The annual event is organised to raise awareness around the challenges and difficulties parents experience following a preterm birth.

Following her birth, Sophia had eight blood transfusions, and was in Cork University Hospital for a full two months.

“Sophia had been through the works,” says Michelle. “The doctors said they wouldn’t survive when I gave birth to twins at 23 weeks.”

The doctors were concerned Sophia was at risk of becoming blind so a decision was made to operate on her eyes, which was successful. She was diagnosed with retinopathy of prematurity, which occurs in prematurely born babies where abnormal blood vessels develop in the retina.

Michelle said the toughest part of the ordeal was burying Tyler while Sophia was still in the hospital.

“It was a very bumpy road after Tyler died, we had to rush back into hospital,” says Michelle. “We were supposed to bring two babies home.”

Her husband Patrick said “it was hard to grieve, we had to grieve quickly, and kind of suppress it a bit because Sophia was still fighting in the hospital . . . It still hits us.”

Michelle and Patrick, who live in Dundrum, Co Tipperary, and have been together for 17 years – were married in 2010.

Sophia is now two and started walking shortly before her second birthday.

She has chronic lung disease and must regularly take antibiotics and steroids. She also receives speech and language therapy.

“Her lungs are weak,” says Michelle. “We have to monitor her breathing levels, and if they drop you have to rush her to hospital. We take it day by day . . . she’s doing brilliantly.”

“We’ve come an awful long way, she’s fantastic, a miracle,” adds Patrick.