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Bed manager Audrey Mitchell (nee Rugge) nominated for Woman of Purpose award

08 September 2017

The birth of a baby should be a joyous occasion but how does a family cope when their child is born prematurely?

Six years after her daughter was born premature, Audrey Mitchell (nee Rugge), a bed manager at CNWL, has been nominated for a Women of Purpose Award (WOPI) for creating HertsPrems  (@hertsprems)  - a unique charity supporting families with babies born ‘too sick, too small, too soon.’

When her daughter Lillianna was born at just 23-weeks Audrey received the devastating news that her baby had only a six per cent chance of survival. However, she was able to find comfort in the quality of care and treatment she received from the hospital staff.

“They were always very efficient, effective, reassuring and they were very humble and became more like family – they went beyond the call of duty.  I noticed a trend at these hospitals; carers would always send back information about how the children had improved and families’ willingness to support fundraising efforts.”

Inspired by this, Audrey co-founded the charity with another parent and in addition to running their bi-monthly group sessions, Audrey also works with local hospitals and neonatal units ensuring families who’ve just been discharged know about the programme. They also promote inspiring research such as EPIcure and neoEPOCH  and create connections between parents online (via email and facebook) and offline (through group work.)

 “We offer hope!” she says, “It’s so hard leaving a child in nursery who is so small and doesn’t look like she should be left alone when  I had to go to return work.  I had to find something positive. After I went on that journey with Lillianna (who is now six years old and doing well) and then my second born, William, who was born at 35 weeks, I felt like I was able to help others and do more.”

One of the most unique features of the group is some of the attendees are adults who were once premature babies.

“The group is open to anyone who is able to relate.” says Audrey,” In general terms, we offer support for parents or families of babies born too sick, too small or too soon so it’s anyone who fits that category. It is a support group for parents and children but there’s no age limit with the children. We want to build a generation of premature children who support each-other.”

However, it’s not just about building bridges – the charity also does a lot of fundraising to help premature babies to get the care and equipment that they need, which in some instances can be life-saving.

“When my daughter was born I was told she would need a Level 3 Neonatal Unit care in an incubator, which provides warmth by firstly mimicking the baby being in the womb. This was initially only available in Scotland!” Audrey explains, “Timing is crucial in these cases! Not only do parents have to go through a distressing time worrying about the health of their child but, in some instances, getting the best care possible for their child might involve a stressful move away from home.

HertsPrems have now raised over £25,000 to support care for babies born too sick, too small or too soon, and a great portion of this will go towards supporting parents in this situation and ensuring we have more appropriate incubators for babies here in the UK.”