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December 2021

Hayden Verhardt on speed boat jpeg
Hayden Verhardt

Sally Verhardt jpeg

Sally Verhardt

Tanya and Hannah jpeg

Tanya Henderson and daughter Hannah Hocking

Old photo of Hannah as a baby getting her first cuddle jpeg

Mum and Hannah’s first cuddle.

Goulburn Valley Health recognises its grown-up premmies

Goulburn Valley Health has marked World Prematurity Day by introducing to the community two locals who were born around four months early.

World Prematurity Day raises awareness of the challenges and burden of preterm birth.

Sally and Michael Verhardt know how lucky they are to have their oldest son, Hayden, celebrating his 21st birthday next year.

For the first nine months of his life, Hayden’s parents were not sure whether he would make it out of hospital.

Hayden and his twin brother Jordan were born at 22 weeks and six days – about 17 weeks premature and at a miniscule 650 grams and 645 grams respectively.

Only one day after he was born, Jordan passed away due to complications, including chronic lung disease.

But Hayden continued to fight.

‘You look at it and think as amazing as it is that he’s here, he shouldn’t be,’ Mrs Verhardt said.

‘He’s had to go through so much but if it wasn’t for the nurses and doctors, we wouldn’t have him – I still can’t believe he’s here.’

Hayden spent nine months in hospital, first at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne before later moving to GV Health in Shepparton.

When Hayden was in hospital in Melbourne, Mr and Mrs Verhardt travelled from Nagambie to Melbourne daily.

At two weeks old, Hayden required surgery to close a valve in his heart.

When he moved closer to home in Shepparton, he still required oxygen.

‘In Shepparton, they were brilliant.’

Hayden will celebrate his 21st birthday in February.

‘He’s fine, he’s happy and healthy – he’s an amazing kid.’

When Hannah Hocking was born at 26 weeks gestation – on December 6 – there were a lot of unknowns.

‘Our aim was to get to 28 weeks – the likelihood of Hannah having fewer complications then was really good,’ said her mother Tanya Henderson.

‘But even at 26 weeks we were lucky because the only complication was a small hole in the muscles around her heart and a valve in the heart was not closing properly.

‘So, at the age of one, she ended up having heart surgery to fix that.’

Hannah was born at the Royal Women’s Hospital before being moved to the Mercy Hospital for Women where she spent 114 days in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

She was then moved to a special care nursery at Goulburn Valley Health.

‘They first sat her on my hand and her little arms and legs dangled off the side and she had this tiny little nappy on her,’ Mrs Henderson said.

Mrs Henderson stayed nearby at Vizard House but went home to her husband and two sons for Christmas.

‘I came home Christmas Eve thinking I could wake up at home with the boys on Christmas Day, because they had missed out on so much.

‘We got a phone call pretty early on Christmas Day to say Hannah wasn’t doing well and we headed back to Melbourne.

‘That was a really awful day – Hannah was really unwell and all the family ended up coming down to see Han just in case she didn’t pull through.

‘Every Christmas you think of that time but also appreciate how lucky we are that she’s here and she’s okay.’

Being born prematurely has meant Hannah’s development was slower than a full-term baby.

Hannah had learning difficulties with ADHD but has now finished Year 12 at St Augustine’s in Kyabram and is hoping to study in Ballarat to become a teacher.

For Mrs Henderson, the biggest challenge now will be saying goodbye to Hannah when she moves for her studies.

‘The boys are already out of home so we’re used to not seeing the kids all the time but, in Han’s case, it has been a little bit unique.

‘It’s been the journey from keeping her alive to letting her go – it’s a little bit more of an intense journey,’ Mrs Henderson said.

In 2020, 88 premature babies – either born at GV Health or transferred back from Melbourne – went through the nursery and 20 babies returned from Melbourne for ongoing care.

Of those 88 premature babies there were eight sets of twins.

This year so far there have been 67 premature babies, with nine returning from Melbourne for ongoing care.

Of the 67 babies there have been 12 sets of twins and a set of triplets.

‘At our special care nursery we can care for babies born at 32 weeks but babies don’t know that and they want to be born whenever and wherever – so we also stabilise babies born before 32 weeks here before they are transferred to Melbourne,’ said GV Health registered nurse Emma McDowell.

‘It’s so important to celebrate World Prematurity Day because premature babies are a major group we see in the nursery.’