Parents’ joy as baby weighing less than a can of baked beans survives against odds

When Cat Gomez proudly pushes her son in his pram, people stop to admire the ­adorable little lad and ask how many days old he is.

Oliver is 7lb 8oz and easily mistaken for a newborn but this remarkable little fighter is already six months old.

Weighing just 14oz, less than a tin of baked beans, Oliver was the lightest baby born at Royal Preston Hospital to live. He was also just one of two to survive after being born there following 22 weeks and three days’ gestation.

Doctors said the chances of him being born alive were as small as he was. The odds on his battle were even longer as he was an identical twin.

Heartbreakingly, his ­brother Joseph, who weighed 1lb, lived for only four days after suffering a brain bleed.

Cat said: “We didn’t know if they would be born alive and had prepared ourselves for the worst.

“Until recently, it was not even recommended to treat premature babies delivered before 23 weeks. Oliver might have been tiny but had so much fight. We couldn’t be prouder.”

Cat, 33, from York, had no complications with her twin pregnancy until she became ill in January, more than four months before her due date in May.

She thought she had a urinary tract infection but antibiotics from her GP did not make her better.

She called triage at York Hospital and was told to come in. Cat said: “I felt like I was being dramatic.”

A scan revealed a cause for concern because Oliver was smaller than his brother. And tests showed her waters may have broken.

She was taken to the Royal Preston, a two-hour drive away, which had two neonatal intensive care cots available. Cat and husband Tom Longstaff, 33, knew the situation was grave.

Tom said: “A specialist told us that the survival rate for a single ­pregnancy born at 22 weeks was really low.

“With them being twins, the chances were virtually non-existent, especially as they were boys, ­because they don’t ­mature as quickly in the womb.”

The unborn twins were given steroids to help their immature lungs and Cat went into labour spontaneously on January 13. Oliver was born first then Joseph, 12 minutes later.

She said: “The room was full of ­doctors and nurses. The boys were rushed to intensive care. I needed an operation, as my placenta would not detach. I was also bleeding a lot and lost 1.8 litres, but I was terrified that I wouldn’t get a chance to meet the boys alive because I was in theatre.”

Tom said: “They had to put them in sandwich bags to keep them warm and damp. The staff said it was a miracle they were born alive, but there wasn’t any false hope and we just resolved to spend what time we could with them.”

He said: “We just felt it was a ­privilege to meet them alive and did away with our expectations.”

Oliver was just 23cm and his skin was “almost see-through” when Tom went to see him in intensive care, while doctors worked on his brother.

While Oliver was 2oz lighter than his twin he had fewer complications than Joseph, who was suffering a grade four brain bleed, the most serious.

Doctors said he would be severely disabled if he survived.

Cat said: “We made the decision to withdraw care. We didn’t want life at all costs. We were finally able to hold Joseph and the hospital arranged a photographer for us.

“They even managed to move him into Oliver’s incubator and we got a picture of them holding hands. Joseph died in my arms when he was four days old.” The devastated parents had little time to grieve, with another gravely fragile baby to care for.

They focused on changing “teabag-sized” nappies and Cat expressed milk to feed Oliver by syringe.

She could hold him for the first time when he was a week old. It needed three nurses to carefully move him.

Cat said: “When I first held Joseph he was dying. It was nice to hold Oliver for a happy reason.”

Getting the newborn to breathe ­unaided was hard and there were a number of demoralising setbacks.

Oliver had 12 blood transfusions and, at 15 weeks old, needed two ­operations in one day – laser eye ­surgery and a bilateral hernia op.

He was such a medical marvel that when he left Preston to be cared for closer to home, the staff lined up to say goodbye. Cat said: “It was very emotional. There were tears all round. They didn’t just look after Oliver – they looked after us too.”

On May 25, after 132 days in ­hospital, Oliver finally went home.

Cat said: “When doctors started to talk about ‘when’ we took him home, not ‘if’, it didn’t feel real.

“We’d not allowed ourselves to believe it was possible.”

Now Oliver is thriving, despite his size, and his besotted parents describe him as “calm but feisty”. Cat said: “He seems really big to us but he is still smaller than many newborns.

“I have kept hold of every size of nappy he went through to show him when he’s older.”

Miraculously, Oliver has few lasting health or developmental problems and recently came off oxygen.

Tom said: “The growth charts didn’t really go down to his gestation so a lot of it is educated guesswork and all learning as we go.

“He has started smiling a lot more now – we’re waiting for that first laugh.” Cat and Tom’s joy is naturally tempered by sadness for their lost child, who passed away six months ago today but they have yet to hold a ­funeral for.

Tom said: “We will do something at our local church when the time feels right.” As the boys were identical, the couple will have a glimpse at how Joseph would have looked as Oliver gets older – but say they will always wonder about his character and what he would have achieved.

Cat said: “It’s difficult. You’re happy for the milestones that the surviving twin is doing, but also sad that the other twin is not doing them. I’ll always wonder if he would have been more happy, more laid back?”

The couple hope Oliver’s story will give hope to other parents who have an extremely premature baby.

Cat said: “I’d never say abortion is wrong but it surprised me that the limit is up to 24 weeks when I saw Oliver.He had so much fight, so much will to live. We’ll be forever grateful the ­recommendations have changed to help babies below 23 weeks and ­doctors gave him a chance.”

Melanie Gwilt, senior sister and neonatal co-ordinator at Lancashire Teaching Hospitals, said the team felt honoured to care for the twins and Cat and Tom are “fantastic parents and partners in care”.

Dr Helen Mactier, of the British Association of Perinatal Medicine, said about one in five babies born in the UK at 22 weeks will survive without major brain damage.

She added: “It is crucial parents anticipating such extreme pre-term birth are ­offered fully informed discussion with professionals.”