'Miracle' baby thought to be world's youngest abdominal surgery survivor

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A "miracle" baby girl from Surrey is thought to be youngest patient in the world to survive major abdominal surgery.

Abiageal Peters was born at just 23 weeks gestation at St Peter's Hospital in Chertsey last October after mum Louise, 32, went into premature labour.

Abiageal was transferred to the neonatal unit at St George's Hospital in London, where doctors performed surgery on her at six days old.

The little girl, who weighed just 1.3lbs, fought against the odds and managed to survive the operation to correct a severe condition of the gut called perforated necrotising enterocolitis (NEC).

NEC most often affects premature babies and occurs when intestinal tissue becomes damaged and begins to die.

Abiageal had a ruptured intestine in three places, but doctors managed to save her despite a huge risk she would die.

The tiny baby is now at home near Esher after celebrating her original due date on February 19.

Mrs Peters, an analyst at Investec bank, and husband David, 43, a director at Aecom in London, have another daughter, Tara, two.

Mrs Peters said: "We agreed to the operation, despite the risks associated with it, as we knew she wouldn't survive without it.

"After she'd gone into theatre, Dave and I sat in a room for what was probably the longest three hours of our lives, waiting for the surgical team to tell us the outcome.

"When the door opened and one of the surgeons came into the room, we just looked at his face without hearing the words and we knew - she was ok. He was smiling.

"The surgery had gone as well as they could possibly have hoped and although they were still clearly anxious considering how young she was and how far she still had to go, her first big hurdle had been cleared.

"Our baby girl was a fighter. She stayed in intensive care for a while and overcame many more hurdles, but she kept fighting and we are so pleased with how she is doing today. She truly is our little miracle."

The couple are baffled as to why Abiageal, who has an Irish name, was born prematurely as both Mrs Peters' pregnancies had progressed with no problems.

The couple had been able to spend a brief amount of time with Abiageal at St Peter's after she was born and put on life support.

Mrs Peters said: "Once the neonatal team had intubated Abi, we were allowed a quick peek and a kiss before she was rushed off. It was incredibly scary and certainly not the birth we had been imagining.

"She just looked so tiny and couldn't make any noise or open her eyes. It was hard to believe something that small could survive, but we knew the fact she was being whisked away meant there was a chance."

But doctors soon suspected there was a problem with Abiageal's bowels as her tummy was turning black. They also feared her body was shutting down.

Consultant paediatric surgeon Zahid Mukhtar, from St George's, led the 10-strong team that operated on Abiageal.

"Abiageal is a unique case and we only chose to operate because her chances of survival without surgery were so small," he said.

"The fact she survived the operation, and is now doing so well, is fantastic news.

"We will continue to monitor her closely, but all the signs suggest we should be optimistic about her long-term prognosis. This is credit to Abiageal, her family, as well as the surgical, medical and nursing teams involved in looking after her."

During the operation, the surgical team opened Abiageal's abdomen, where three ruptures were found in her intestine, causing contamination and infection throughout her abdomen.

A section of her intestine was removed and her abdomen was thoroughly washed.

A temporary stoma, like a colostomy bag, was inserted during the challenging operation, which lasted less than an hour and involved specialist tiny equipment.

Mr Mukhtar has examined published literature and spoken to paediatric surgical colleagues across the country and says he believes she is the youngest patient to survive major abdominal surgery.

He said: "The survival rate for babies born at 23 weeks is very low and Abiageal's case is remarkable in that sense."