Miracles happen behind those doors
"I want to raise awareness about how wonderful the Grace Centre is and tell everyone what a hidden gem is right here in our own backyard. I hope sharing my story can help." Eleni Gerassis.
The memory that Eleni and Mario Gerassis have of the amazing doctors, nurses and specialist staff who saved their daughter Dimitra, is as strong today as it was when she was born on Mother’s Day eight years ago.
Equally strong is their motivation to continually raise awareness of those unsung heroes who, despite it being their job, every day strive to save the lives of tiny babies … to keep families bonded forever.
"They are like family," Eleni explains. When you’re there all day, every day, Grace becomes your second home. The staff are amazing – every one of them is motivated, devoted and determined to do every thing for every baby," she said.
How do you acknowledge that commitment and repay them for your child’s life?
For Eleni and her husband Mario it was personal – a commitment made between parents and newborn. A promise to do what they could for the ‘friends’ who played such a vital role in giving them back their little Dimi, who today is so happy and healthy.
It’s only when you experience what goes on behind the doors that lead into Grace, Eleni said that you realise how many people don’t know about Grace or about the miraculous team that work there.
"When you’re pregnant you don’t expect to need a place like Grace but when you do, it isn’t long before you realise how special it is and you know it’s where you and your baby should be.
"I want to raise awareness about how wonderful the Grace Centre is and tell everyone what a hidden gem is right here in our own backyard. I hope sharing my story can help," she said.
At just 24 weeks pregnant with her second child, Eleni knew something was wrong. After extensive tests and consultations an initial diagnosis of CCAM – a rare abnormality of lung development – predicted a 10% chance of survival for their unborn baby. For Eleni and Mario it was a chance worth taking.
Eleni became as unwell as her unborn baby and needed complete bed rest. She spent much of a painful pregnancy in RPA in a constant state of labour while drugs helped prolong the pregnancy giving the baby as much time to grow before delivery. During that time both mother and unborn baby required special surgeries to drain extremely large volumes of fluid from their bodies. For baby Dimitra this was done in utero and involved placing a special shunt (drain) into the cysts growing inside her chest. The shunt would later be removed during surgery after her birth.
Difficult pregnancies and traumatic births place families under great pressure. Eleni and Mario are so grateful to their supportive family who stepped in with love and around-the-clock care for their two-year-old Sophia, allowing Mario to constantly be by Eleni’s side in hospital. Eleni is so proud of her husband and says she couldn’t have done it without his amazing strength and support.
"A lot of couples don’t survive these ordeals and many husbands don't cope well, but mine was exceptional," she said. Mario stayed with me the whole time – wheeling me to all my appointments and sleeping in a chair at my side – he was a constant source of strength."
At 30 weeks, Eleni gave birth at Westmead hospital. It was Mother’s Day, but for this mother and daughter the chance to bond would have to wait for several weeks yet. Dimi needed help to breathe, she was stabilised, placed on a ventilator and later transferred to the Grace Centre in preparation for surgery.
Eleni and Mario prepared for the worse. "Those first few days were terrifying, we were numb and there were a lot of tears. We worried and we prayed. How could a baby so small survive surgery? We asked lots of questions and were constantly reassured by beautiful nurses and extremely knowledgeable staff. They were so calm and sensitive, knowing exactly what to say and when. We knew we were in the right place," Eleni said.
Four days later, Dimi’s surgeon confirmed that the growth in her chest was a benign Teratoma tumour and that all 500g of it had been successfully removed from her tiny body.
Although born weighing 2.330kgs, after surgery with tumour and fluid gone, Dimi weighed just 1.5kg and Mario’s wedding band fitted around her ankle. The tumour had filled the space reserved for her right lung but the good news was that her lung would grow and it would become stronger over time. Her scar, which at the time seemed enormous, is today a silent reminder of her special inner strength and a mark of her courage.
Thank you Dr Soundappan.
After discharge from Grace, Dimi spent the next four months in Westmead’s newborn intensive care unit attached to a special machine to help her breathe and a feeding tube to help her grow strong enough to go home – which she did ….on Father’s Day.
For the next six years Dimi’s dedicated family ensured she regularly attended Outpatient appointments at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead for CT Scans, blood tests and tumour marker tests. Early feeding issues (she needed the feeding tube until nine months old) had affected her speech which has subsequently been resolved with speech therapy.
Eleni says she still worries about her daughter and although a recent bout of bronchitis caused some concern, she knows that Dimi has a very strong will and despite a challenging start to life is doing really well.
"She’s an amazing little girl, a great student and she loves her sister Sophia. Our girls are both very much aware of other sick kids and they want to help too. Mario and I are so proud of them," Eleni said.
It would seem that they’ve inherited their parent’s compassion for others and, if their donation of gifts at Christmas is an indicator, they’re living proof of the Gerassis ethos ‘we do what we can’.
Editor's note: Eleni and Mario are proud supporters of The Grace Newborn Intensive Care Unit. They have been fundraising for Grace since 2010, purchasing a large sterilizing unit, renovating the interview and mothers’ expressing rooms, as well as organising Christmas fundraising activities. In addition to these generous efforts this year they organised a special Gala Dinner "Tiny Miracles" to show their appreciation and support for the Grace team. The Gala was wonderfully successful - achieving their goal to raise more than $100,000 to purchase two new ventilators for the ward.