The cry of a young baby is a sound most parent’s don’t enjoy, but for Joel and Tiffany Mitchell of Warkworth it would be music to their ears.
Unable to make a noise, their six-month-old daughter Eva has spent most of her life in Starship Children’s Hospital with serious health complications.
Eva was born with congenital diaphragmatic hernia, a condition where a hole in the diaphragm allows internal organs to push up into the chest cavity and prevent the lungs from developing normally.
The entire left side of her diaphragm was missing, and her heart and liver had moved into the space, leaving her lungs seriously underdeveloped.
She has endured multiple procedures and invasive surgeries as doctors fought to save her life.
Tiffany, 24, and Joel, 26, have only been married two years, and also have a two-year-old daughter Mela.
Family friend Jayne Boesley says Eva has defied so many odds that she has been described by staff at Starship Hospital as a miracle baby.
“Her parents chose the name Eva because they thought it was a name suitable for an angel, after they were told their baby may not have long to live.”
The nightmare began 20 weeks into the pregnancy when a scan revealed the complication.
Eva was expected to be stillborn, but she defied the odds and was born full term on October 13, 2007.
Surgeons had less than a minute to incubate their tiny patient as she couldn’t breathe on her own.
As her parents dared to relax after five days in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit, Eva’s heart stopped beating.
She was placed on a lung and heart bypass machine which allowed doctors to stabilise her condition.
Her survival chances were slim, but Eva fought her way to strength, and came off the machines, only to get a blood clot travel to her brain, causing temporary paralysis to one side of her face.
Once stabilised, surgeons were finally able to patch the large hole in her diaphragm.
Eva defied predictions she was too fragile to survive, and began making slow progress.
It was a long seven weeks before Joel and Tiffany were able to hold their daughter for the first time.
Their wish to take Eva home for her first Christmas was granted, but it wasn’t an easy time. Without the full time support of medical staff, Joel and Tiffany had to come to terms with the reality of living with a sick child.
Various monitors and an oxygen tank with metres of tubing were part of their baby equipment, and constant care was required.
Tiffany says some people thought they were wrong to keep Eva alive, but she says it was Eva who was fighting to live.
“She is here for a reason, and we would never wish to have missed out on even a day with her. She is a gift to us, and every day we have with her is a bonus. The doctors urged us to not lose hope as they felt they could help her.”
It has been hard for the young family – emotionally, physically and financially.
Eva’s condition meant that Joel was unable to work, and their savings have gone to meet medical costs.
Ms Boesley says it’s hard for people to realise how sick Eva is because she looks like a perfect baby.
“She has met her developmental milestones and is not intellectually impaired. Apart from the oxygen tube in her nose and the feeding button on her tummy, she has no obvious outward sign of the medical problems she is experiencing.”
Because Eva can’t cry, Tiffany says there may be times when her baby is suffering pain and they don’t realise.
She has been weaned off morphine and is now receiving regular doses of pamol.
Tiffany decided to express breast milk for her baby, even though Eva was unable to nurse, and it was fed via a tube into Eva’s stomach.
She continued to do this for Eva for almost six months, and has reluctantly weaned her onto a special formula as she reacts badly to the standard formula.
When Eva is strong enough she will need further surgery to correct her swallowing difficulties and to investigate her inability to vocalise, which could be related to her traumatic birth or other medical problems.
Joel and Tiffany have nothing but praise for the team at Starship in NICU and the paediatric intensive care unit who gave so much care to Eva, as well as to themselves and Mela.
“They have given us our baby back and we can never thank them enough,” she says.
The family hopes Eva will recover from her recent surgery and return home within the next month.
Once home, big sister Mela will need to stay away from preschool over the winter in case she brings home infections that could affect Eva’s health.
“They plan to take one day at a time and think it will all be worth it to see their daughter’s health improve,” says Ms Boesley.
If you would like to help the Mitchell family you can make a donation at any Westpac branch into the ‘Appeal for Eva’ account.