Approximately seven percent of babies are born prematurely in New Zealand and a charitable support group has five bases around the country to help families cope.
All are based in centres with a neonatal hospital unit but this year a satellite group will be formed in Marlborough-Nelson.
It will be a welcome link for Ward mother Jody Edwards, whose two youngest children were born prematurely.
Son Corbin arrived 14 weeks before his due date in 2008, weighing just 1050 grams.
He was delivered by caesarean section at Wairau Hospital, then flown to the prenatal unit at Wellington Hospital.
He remained there for the next four and a half months, forcing his mum to leave the rest of her family at home in Ward so she could be with him.
She was "saved" by free accommodation at the Ronald McDonald house, and the huge support offered by schools, businesses and individuals in Ward and neighbouring Seddon. Meals were prepared for husband Hayden, who had to stay home to work and mind the couple's two older sons, and money was raised so they could visit Jody and Corbin in Wellington.
Seeing their tiny new brother helped Corryn, then 8, and Casey, 7, understand why their mum had to stay in Wellington for so long, Jody says.
Corbin needed intensive neonatal care after being born with chronic lung disease and a double hernia.
When he reached full-term gestation size, Jody was allowed to take him home, although physiotherapy continued for nearly three years to help him reach each early child-development milestone.
That programme has just ended but Jody's involvement in prenatal care certainly has not. Corbin's little sister Courtney was born 16 weeks early in September 2010.
Jody had been assured a second premature birth was unlikely but when conception was confirmed, scans were regularly given to ensure everything went smoothly.
Everything did go well until at 18 weeks, when her cervix started to dilate.
Doctors put a stitch in it and the weekly scans became internal ones.
At 24 weeks Jody woke at 4am with stomach cramps.
"The kids were in bed asleep so I drove myself, with full-on cramping, for 40 minutes all the way [to Wairau Hospital]."
A neonatal team from Wellington was called but just as they arrived at 7.30am, Courtney was delivered by caesarean section, weighing 850 grams.
Her stay in the Wellington neonatal unit lasted five and a half months and Jody found herself at the Ronald McDonald house again.
"I was a lot more relaxed; they're an awesome team over in Wellington and ... I knew Corbin had come through all good."
Three weeks after Courtney's birth, Jody was allowed her first hold. It was nearly the last.
Jody learned her baby had necrotizing enterocolitis, a gastrointestinal disease that attacks the bowel.
A six-hour surgery followed and part of Courtney's bowel had to be removed.
"She's still got blocked bowels, she's still high risk," says Jody.
Courtney needs checkups every three months and her parents are told to rush her to Wellington if she ever vomits up anything green. That happened once when she was 9 months old, and resulted in another long surgery.
Jody is grateful for Blenheim health provider Maataa Waka, which provides a 24-hour phone service, but the Edwards are conscious their Ward home is outside the usual health circuit.
They are grateful the Lifeflight Trust can provide quick access to Wellington's neonatal unit.
Food grants from the Neonatal Trust have been gratefully received and it paid for Hayden to fly over to Wellington when Jody was there with each of the babies.
Having a satellite trust branch in the region can only widen the support network, Jody says.
"When you see pictures and hear stories of other premature babies, that gives you comfort."
The Neonatal Trust is run by volunteers to support families, provide neonatal units with extra equipment and to help finance neonatal research. It receives no government funding so relies on fundraising and donations.
- The Marlborough Express
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