Baby Evie - born 12 weeks early in the Dominican Republic - all set to turn one
An Ipswich mum whose baby was born 12 weeks early while abroad has spoken for the first time about her family's "scary" experience.
Evie Compton was born prematurely while mum Sharon Halls and dad Dan Compton were in the Dominican Republic last September.
What was supposed to be a relaxing holiday, attending a wedding, turned into a nightmare after Evie arrived weighing just 2lbs 12oz and too weak to fly home – forcing the couple to extend their stay in the Caribbean by four months.
Now, as Evie celebrates her first birthday on Wednesday, Sharon has spoken to the Star about their experience.
“It didn’t seem real when it first happened,” she said. “Having never had a baby before I was not even sure I was in labour.
“They tried to give me something to stop the contractions, but Evie wasn’t having any of it, she was coming out regardless.
“At that point it didn’t sink in we were still abroad. I just thought we would be whisked home the next day and everything would be fine.
“It was very scary.”
Dan, 36, added: “I had little time to be scared. We just knew we had to do something because the hospital near us didn’t have the facilities for a birth, let alone a premature baby.”
But if anything the situation got worse, with Sharon having to be moved from the private hospital they were first in – complete with their own room – to the public hospital and an open ward, where hardly any staff spoke English.
“That was the more scary part,” added Sharon, 37.
The couple did not even know Evie’s sex to begin with, not understanding the Spanish for girl.
Initially the proud parents thought they would still be home by Christmas or New Year, but it was not until January 20 that they could fly back to the UK.
In order to fly Evie had to reach a certain weight – a target hampered by her losing 10oz from her already low weight when she was born. She was also anaemic, and had three blood transfusions from her dad.
Fearful their insurance would not cover the medical and other costs the family launched a desperate fundraising plea back home.
Evie’s story prompted hundreds of people across the country to donate a total of around £75,000 in just a few days when they heard of the family’s plight.
Fortunately insurers did pick up the bill, and the family donated most of the money raised to the Sunrise Appeal at Ipswich Hospital, supporting the neonatal and paediatric departments, though some was also given to the hospital’s audiology department.
“We were so surprised by the support,” said Sharon. “Even when it got to just £8,000 I couldn’t believe it.
“We never thought we would get what we needed, and then we didn’t need it at all we were so relieved.
“When we had people like Jason Manford [comedian] and Kerry Katona [singer] tweeting about it, I was thinking ‘My God, we’re just nobodies’.
“It was amazing what love there is out there.”
The couple again offered their thanks to everyone who has supported them.
The support vindicated Dan’s decision to take a laptop on holiday to watch films before bed, despite Sharon telling him he wouldn’t need it.
Two monitoring machines are also being bought for the public hospital in the Dominican Republic to help new mothers there.
“It terrifies me to think they don’t have them,” Dan said.
“A lot of babies died while we were there at the hospital, and one of these machines could have alerted them.”
Fortunately Evie’s story was a happy one. Although she has hearing loss – something she will never recover, and which may not have been caused by being born prematurely – she is an otherwise health baby, tipping the scales at 16lbs 4oz at last weigh-in and crawling, smiling with her new teeth and doing everything else a baby of her age should be.
Both parents have recently completed a beginners’ course in toddler sign language, in case Evie’s speech does not develop due to her hearing problems.
“We are lucky when you think what some premature babies go through,” said Dan. “It’s lovely to just be a parent and enjoy those first teeth and when she starts crawling.”
Sharon, who starts back at work next month, added: “Looking back we have the pictures to remind us, but it is almost a distant memory – it has gone so quickly.
“For a long time I had nightmares about it, but knowing how well she is doing now all the fears have slipped away.
“I don’t know if I would change it.
“We are just very thankful. I think there was maybe someone looking down on us, and it could have been much worse. We were very lucky.”
People still ask for updates on Evie’s progress on her Facebook appeal page, Little Evie’s Journey, and her parents hope she can take over the page as her own when she is old enough – giving her a timeline literally to her birth.
The experience has not put the family off travelling, with Sharon and Dan due to tie the knot in Mauritius next year – a year later than planned.
Sharon would also like to return to the Dominican Republic one day, when Evie is old enough to understand what happened to her.
The couple are still in contact with two English-speaking doctors who helped with translation over there, as well as an Ipswich man, Robert, who lives in the country and was a huge help during their four months there.