Doctors save life of baby with ‘miracle’ rare surgery at St George’s Hospital in south London

 (St George’s NHS Trust)
(St George’s NHS Trust)

London doctors helped to save the life of a premature baby who was expected to die a few hours after being born when surgeons discovered she had a dead bowel.

Deborah and Dominic La Spina said they do not believe their baby daughter Connie would be here today without the help of paediatric surgeons from St George’s Hospital in Tooting who “took the risk that no one else would”.

She has since has made a full recovery against the odds, with her mother saying “we’ve been crying happy tears ever since”.

Just hours after being born, Connie began vomiting and had to be resuscitated. St George’s was the only hospital in the UK that could carry out an emergency procedure which would save her life.

“We were told she needed surgery and we were hopeful when she went in – but then the surgeons came back, and we knew something was wrong,” Ms La Spina said.

“They explained that things were far worse than they anticipated and her intestine was twisted, cutting off the blood supply. We were told that most of Connie’s bowel was dead and not compatible with life. We were terrified.”

 (St George’s NHS Trust)
(St George’s NHS Trust)

Scans done before Connie was born revealed that she had an abdominal cyst, which Mr and Mrs La Spina were told not to worry about. It would turn out to be life-threatening.

Medics at St George informed them that Connie would need an operation immediately to remove a small piece of bowel.

Mrs La Spina said: “They said everything should be OK, and we’ll be home in a few weeks.

“So we waved our baby daughter, who was only a few hours old, off to theatre and we hoped for the best.

“I had just given birth, so I didn’t really know what was going on. I just trusted that the doctors knew what they were doing.”

After nearly five hours, Connie’s surgery was over. But the surgeons warned that the situation was “far worse than they anticipated” and that Connie’s intestine had become twisted - cutting off her blood supply.

Surgeons passed a special tube around the intestine, “like scaffolding”, to give it chance to recover.

Mrs La Spina added: “They drew us a diagram and explained everything in great detail. The risk was high and the odds were low. Even if the surgery worked, her quality of life would be very questionable. Would she ever be able to eat or have a normal life?”

But after a few days Connie appeared to make progress and was moved from intensive care into a high dependency unit. She was eventually able to start feeding on milk through the holes in her stomach.

Six weeks later, she underwent another procedure to remove the tube holding her bowel together – “the true test to see if everything had worked”.

Connie began to vomit again after one week and the decision was made for her to go back in to surgery to remove some bowel. Her condition improved and she was able to start feeding orally.

“It was ground-breaking,” Mrs La Spina said. “The surgery had gone so well, she didn’t need any other support. It was a miracle.”

 (St George’s NHS Trust)
(St George’s NHS Trust)

After 95 days, Connie was given the green light to go home, to the delight of her parents.

Mrs La Spina said: “Connie now is the happiest little baby, all giggles and laughs, and she smiles at absolutely everybody. She loves having people round, and her sister is over the moon with her, so in love.

“She loves to stand, though we have to hold her up, and she’s rolling over. I think she’s going to be one of those kids that grabs everything!”

Mrs La Spina said that she could not be more thankful to the surgeons that saved her daughter’s life.

“We happened to be in the right place at the right time, the right team got together, and they came up with a plan,” she said.

“They knew just what to do, and I can’t believe any other team would have been able to save Connie. They worked with us every day, and gave us so much time. Even though it wasn’t the case, they made it feel like Connie was their only patient. Thank you for taking the risk.”

Mrs La Spina and Connie recently returned to St George’s to reunite with the team that saved Connie’s life, as well as to meet Board members.

Jacqueline Totterdell, Chief Executive for St George’s, Epsom and St Helier Hospitals Group, said: "Seeing this gorgeous little girl flourish brought a huge smile to my face. Connie's immense bravery, not to mention the incredible efforts of all those involved in her care, is awe-inspiring, and I'm so proud that our talented team of surgeons had the courage to act as they did.”

Consultant Paediatric Surgeon Mr (Prof) CK Sinha said: “The surgery was a huge success, and we were so excited to see it happen, but it was also a challenging journey.

“We kept ourselves positive, and a huge credit needs to go to Connie’s parents, who were so supportive throughout. It was a whole team effort, and everyone was there to support Connie and her parents throughout their journey.”