Tiny premature baby with skin so thin she was kept in a ‘bag’ defies odds of survival

A premature baby born weighing just 1lb 5oz with skin so thin and translucent she was kept in a “plastic bag” has defied the odds and taken her first steps.

When Forrest Jean Coburn Gardiner was born at 26 weeks, just two days before the first lockdown in 2020, she had no toenails or fingernails and her eyes were still fused together.

At the time, she was given only a 40% chance of survival, and spent 118 days in three different hospitals, battling multiple life-threatening conditions.

She has had artificial veins threaded through the palms of her hands and feet right up to her heart as her veins were not coping, her mum told Wales Online.

Even now at 18 months old Forrest is still wearing mostly aged clothing for babies aged three to six months.

Mostly everyone who knows her calls her Thumbelina.

Her mum Abbey Coburn describes Forrest as a “funny and very cheeky little girl” that has defied doctors’ odds of survival.

And despite warnings that she may never walk, Forrest has recently taken her first steps – a feat that a year ago would have seemed unimaginable.

Abbey had to deliver baby Forrest at just 26 weeks as she was alerted to her pre-eclampsia condition at her 23 week anti-natal appointment at the beginning of March 2020.

The mum-of-three was admitted to hospital, and the plan was to try and get the pregnancy to 30 weeks, as the only treatment for the condition is to deliver the baby.

“There was six grams of protein in my urine. They said ‘I don’t know how you are still standing’, but I felt absolutely fine, that was the scariest part of it,” the 23-year-old said.

Pre-eclampsia affects up to 6% of pregnancies, and severe cases develop in about one to 2% of pregnancies.

“I was admitted to hospital at 24 weeks then they discharged me but I was seen every day, then about a week later I was rushed to Singleton Hospital in Swansea.”

However, Abbey’s case became severe and there was a worry she could develop eclampsia, life-threatening seizures for mother and baby.

Abbey, who lives in Porth, Rhondda, was due to give birth in Prince Charles Hospital in Merthyr, however consultants sent her to Singleton as they had better facilities to support premature babies.

The day after her admission, Abbey became dizzy and began having severe headaches which were causing nose bleeds.

She had started showing signs of eclampsia so she was rushed to theatre for an emergency C-section.

“Before the C-section doctors said that there was a 60% chance she wouldn’t survive. We both thought there’s no way she’s going to survive. I was preparing for her funeral before she was born.

“I woke up not knowing if she had survived. I was so out of it, I didn’t get to see her until she was 16 hours old as I was so ill.

“The surgeon said ‘we just saved your life, if we didn’t deliver the baby at that moment you would have died.'”

As Baby Forrest was born 26 weeks premature she was kept in what Abbey described as a plastic bag to protect her see-through skin, which is designed to replicate the womb.

Forrest spent 118 days in three different hospitals. Her dad Keri Gardiner was not allowed to meet Forrest properly until she was five months old due to Covid restrictions.

Abbey said it was hard dealing with everything alone without Keri by her side, but said she had a great support system around her with the other mothers in the neonatal unit who were all able to support each other.

She said: “I was witnessing things happening to Forrest and other babies, on my own. Two babies passed away next to me.

“At eight weeks old for a second time Forrest was pronounced dead in my arms, no-one could be with me, I was all alone.

“You never expect things like this to happen to you. I was living a nightmare.”

Throughout Forrest’s stay in hospital she had numerous life threatening conditions including a hole in the heart.

Abbey said: “A treatment Forrest had often was long lines, this is where they would thread artificial veins through the palms of her hands and feet right up to her heart as her veins were not coping.

“When Forrest had surgery last May for a hole in her heart while in surgery they discovered she has a rare heart disease.

“As Forrest gets older she will likely need a stent in her heart, but we’ll face that when we come to it.”

Forrest’s parents Abbey and Keri were told that she may never walk due to diuretics she had been on for over a year but are usually only prescribed in a 10 day course and not given to children, with the likely side effect of long term use cerebral palsy.

However, Forrest has defied the odds yet again by recently taking her first steps.

“We had prepared ourselves for her to never walk. Luckily she isn’t showing any signs of cerebral palsy at the moment.

“Her quality of life is set to be long, happy and healthy, we’re going on holidays soon and we never thought she would be able to fly with her heart.”

Forrest’s time in hospital has inspired Abbey to study neonatal nursing, and to start a TikTok account sharing Forrest’s journey and to raise awareness about premature babies.