Lauren McCarthy with her mum Aoife, dad CJ and sister Zara.

‘She was the size of my hand’

The father of a baby girl born 9 weeks premature at CUMH is raising funds to build dedicated rooms for the parents of stillborn and premature babies.

Lauren McCarthy was born weighing just 3lb after a midwife discovered an abnormal heart rate during an appointment for her mum, Aoife, 33.

She spent 6 weeks slowly building her strength in the neonatal ward of CUMH before finally being allowed to go home with her mum and dad. Now her dad CJ, 37, is gearing up for the Paris marathon in April to raise funds for a neonatal sanctum and parents’ room to support other parents at the Wilton campus. The new facilities funded will cost an estimated €1 million.

CJ said: “We are here to tell the tale of how lucky we are. There were times when we questioned if Lauren would ever come out of the neonatal unit. In those moments, you are terrified of what’s to come.”

The parents-to-be first learned of a problem with Lauren’s heart rate when mum Aoife, a radiographer, was attending CUMH for an Anti-D injection 31 weeks into her pregnancy in January 2021. 2 days later, following a scan, the couple was told an emergency Caesarean section was needed.

“She (Lauren) came out at 3lb. I had to go to the neo-natal ward and she was put into an incubator. She was the size of my hand,” recalled CJ.

“They were challenging times as often it was 1 step forward, 2 steps back with her progress. However, we were among the lucky ones. Some babies were extremely sick, some parents had miles to travel on a daily basis, we were only down the road in Castlelyons and had great support from our family.”

The planned neonatal sanctum will be a structure within the CUMH garden for parents to take a baby in palliative care, or for a seriously ill mother to access. The parents’ room will be a private area, separate from the unit but nearby, and a place where parents can take some time out from the clinical setting during a stressful time.

Both projects will help the parents of babies who are stillborn, premature or suffering from life-limiting conditions.

CJ said: “It will give parents a chance to sit down and talk to others going through the same thing. At a time when they think the whole world is against them, they can go into a room, make a coffee and chat with others in the same boat.”

Lauren, who turns 2 this Sunday, is now a healthy little sister to Zara, 4. CJ, who has run 7 previous marathons, said he always wanted to give something back to CUMH following the care given to his little girl.