Little Zack Reilly had a rocky start to life.
He was born by emergency caesarean at 37 weeks on July 11 2021 with a ‘bruised and blistered’ left arm – which had to be amputated ten days later, as it was ‘dead’.
The also baby survived blood clots in his brain and arm while in the womb – but his parents are still unsure how this will affect him later in life.
After doctors removed Zack’s arm 10 days after his birth, they also gave him an MRI and discovered that he had experienced a stroke in the womb.
This has left him with brain damage, which could affect his mobility, muscle control and speech as he continues to grow.
Yet, the beaming boy has just celebrated his first birthday and completed his first week of nursery.
And his parents, 29-year-old Royal Navy assistant careers advisor Libby Francis and 28-year-old telecoms engineer Owen Reilly, are delighted by his progress so far.
The couple met in 2016, while Owen was in the Navy, and were overjoyed when they found out they were expecting.
And it had been a smooth-sailing pregnancy up until July 10 2021, when Libby started feeling sharp pains in her stomach.
The pair rang the hospital explaining they thought the mum-to-be was having contractions, but medics said it didn’t sound like she was ready to come in yet.
However, things worsened the next day as the cramps became incredibly painful and Libby couldn’t tell if Zack was moving – so the hospital told them to come in.
Doctors monitored Zack’s heart and instantly knew there was something wrong, so Libby was rushed into an emergency caesarean on July 11.
The birth went well: Zack was born at a healthy 6lb 6oz, but it was clear something was very wrong with his arm.
Libby says: ‘It happened so quickly and I was so scared he wouldn’t be okay.
‘I was really happy when he was born that they’d got him out in time.
‘I hadn’t seen his arm at this point, but Owen had and it looked black and bruised.’
Zack was then whisked away to intensive care at Hull Royal Infirmary.
Libby says: ‘It was so scary but seeing him for the first time, I just fell in love.
‘Touching his hand through the little hole in his incubator was amazing, but I was gutted not to be able to hold him.’
While they waited nervously at Leeds Children’s Hospital, Libby and Owen were warned their son may need an amputation
The doctors gave the newborn a few days, as colour started to return to his upper arm. But they eventually had to amputate three-quarters of Zack’s ‘dead’ left arm, halfway up his bicep.
Libby adds: ‘He was in a lot of pain at first, though, and I had to take myself away at one point, as it was just too upsetting.’
Then the new parents then received the devastating news that their baby had a blood clot in the brain: the effects of which they won’t see until Zack is older.
Libby and Owen admit they were ‘so upset’ for Zack, as they adjusted to this new reality.
As Zack spent the first few weeks of his life between hospitals, the Sick Children’s Trust set the new family up at a ‘home from home’ opposite the hospital.
It was a lifeline for them, Libby says: ‘The first night, Owen had to stay in a hotel, while I remained in hospital, but we were worried about how long we could afford this for.
‘Thankfully, the Sick Children’s Trust had a room for us in a home across the road from the children’s ward, which was just amazing.
‘It meant I could still breastfeed Zack and we could both be near him, as well as taking away the financial worries. And we had the space to cry if we needed to.’
After he was allowed to go home, the first five months of Zack’s life were better than expected: he was smiling, reaching for toys and lifting his head.
They also found out that he his hearing loss wasn’t as extreme as doctor’s predicted.
‘It sounds weird but we were so happy, as mild hearing loss meant he could still hear us,’ Libby says.
‘He has hearing aids to help him, but you can still talk to him and he understands you without them.
‘We came home and celebrated, dancing around the kitchen to music together.’
However, over the Christmas period, he started having seizures – five each day for four days.
He was then diagnosed with a rare type of epilepsy, called infantile spasms, which is associated with a very abnormal brainwave pattern – and he was prescribed medication.
Thankfully, the medication worked.
Now, the youngster is at nursery, learning his head control and having physio to help him sit up.
Most importantly, Zack is a very happy baby.
‘He is quite the cheeky chappie, he is always so happy and just loves to giggle and loves when you make him laugh and makes us laugh too,’ Libby says.
One of his favourite things to do is play on the swings, and his family and friends all chipped in for his birthday to buy Zack his very own special needs swing – with extra support to keep him secure.
Libby and Owen don’t know what the future holds for Zack – but, for now, they are enjoying every moment with him.
Owen adds that they ‘couldn’t believe how far they had come’ when they enjoyed a big family BBQ for their little one’s first birthday.
He adds: ‘He has been through a lot, but to get to where we are now is amazing. He can babble a bit now.
‘He can’t crawl but he uses his arm to grab stuff and he is smiling and laughing and reacting to our facial expressions.
‘He is a really happy baby and we couldn’t ask for much more.
‘What happened to Zack changed my life and having the support of the Sick Children’s Trust made so much difference.”
Wanting to ‘give back’ to this charity that was there for them in their darkest hour, the couple have launched a GoFundMe page with the hope of raising £3,500.
Despite never jogging more than a few miles each, the pair are running in the Yorkshire Marathon in October this year to raise the money – and have convinced nine friends to join them.
Owen adds: ‘Everyone has been so amazing and if we can raise some money to help another family like us, then it will all be worth it.’
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