She weighed 1 pound, 2 ounces at birth and spent her first three days on life support inside a plastic sandwich bag.
Allegra Lategan was delivered during an emergency Caesarian on July 29 at 22 weeks.
“South Africa’s miracle baby spent her first three days after birth tucked away in a plastic sandwich bag,” writes Shanaaz Eggington in the South African daily newspaper the Times. “It was the only way doctors could keep her paper-thin skin intact.”
“Nothing was ready,” explains the baby’s doctor, neonatologist Ricky Dippenaar. “Her heart, lungs and brain weren’t ready. Even her skin didn’t have three layers. Even now, she is technically only 29 weeks in gestational age.”
Allegra is the daughter of construction engineer Hennie Lategan and his wife, Chantal, an elementary school teacher, both 29.
She was allowed to hold Allegra for the first time on September 9, 42 days after the birth. “It was magic. I wanted to cry and I wanted to laugh. I did both and asked my husband to wipe away my tears … because I could not have them falling on her,” she told Eggington.
“Technically, babies are only fully developed at 34 weeks,” explains Dr. Dippenaar. “But even then, it doesn’t mean that all systems are working yet. There are many factors that come into play. We wanted to make sure that she is doing well before we told the world about our little angel.”
Because she was so small, Allegra was moved to an incubator upon delivery, but could not be dried, as her skin was too fragile. Secretions were suctioned from her lungs and a breathing tube inserted. The sandwich bag maintained her temperature and protected her skin, writes Eggington:
“With tiny babies, all movement has to be very slow and stable. If you carry them slightly upside down, it can alter their blood pressure, which can cause bleeding in the brain,” said Dippenaar.
“Small babies can take up to five hours to hook up to a ventilator and to insert all the intravenous drips. When we are born, we have two arteries and a vein in our belly button, through which we got our nourishment from our mother. We simply reinsert the drips there. Then we step back and leave them to grow. No light, no sound, minimal handling. We don’t fiddle with them. We recreate the environment in the womb.”
He said Allegra’s will to live played a key role in her survival. Dippenaar applauded the “team effort” that contributed to Allegra’s survival. “A baby like Allegra creates a roller coaster of emotions. We had to make sure that the parents could cope with it, as there was a significant chance of her dying.”
Allegra is expected home in about two months.
Said her dad: “I’m too scared to hold her yet.
“But nothing beats the feeling I get when she grabs hold of my finger and holds on for dear life.”