Where babies fight for their lives
IT'S a corner of Tweed Heads Hospital where no new parent wants to find themselves.
But sadly the special care nursery treats an average of 30 babies a month. About half the tiny patients are born premature while others are often suffering breathing or blood-sugar level problems.
The facility, attached to the women's care unit, is no bigger than a one-bedroom apartment and open plan.
Medical staff mix with mums and babies, an environment that often produces strong bonds between patients and nurses and heightened emotions.
"It can be pretty intense," says nurse manager Sandra Meskell, who presides over a core team of nine.
"It's often very full and everyone is in the room together.
"There's moments where something might be going on with one baby, which other mothers are witness to, and that's difficult for them because not only is the mother of the baby feeling a bit distressed but the other mums can sense that.
"So women get to know each other, they often get to make life-long friends because they travel this particularly difficult journey together."
The hospital only treats babies 32 weeks gestation or older.
More premature babies are transferred to a larger facility until they're old enough to return again. It often means gut-wrenching separation between mums and bubs.
"A good day is when we see them walk out the door, when they're big and happy and healthy and we've got them there from the tiny little thing they arrive as," Sandra says.
"A not-so-good day is when mothers have to be separated from their children, babies that need to be transferred out."
On the day the Tweed Daily News visited there were four babies, three of whom looked average sized and were in standard hospital cots.
But baby Iori, born at 30 weeks gestation weighing just 900g, was clearly the runt of this litter.
He squirmed and wriggled in his infant incubator, which was monitoring his heart and respiratory rate and oxygen saturation.
His left hand was weighed down by an intravenous cannula and there's a saturation probe on his left foot.
His chest was draped in leads and there was a tube in his nose.
It's a heart-rending sight for a stranger, let alone his mum and dad.
"The things that the mother has to go through they can't really prepare for," Sandra said.
Mum's emotional roller-coaster ride
Kyla and Greg Golds' daughter Airlie was born 10 weeks premature on August 18 last year.
The Stokers Siding parents are paramedics, but even being in the medical field would not prepare them for the roller-coaster ride Airlie's birth would propel them on.
After her birth, Airlie spent two weeks in Gold Coast Hospital before being transferred to Tweed Hospital's special care nursery.
Kyla describes the unit as "a different world", one where your spirits rise and fall on the tone of a ping from a monitor attached to your fragile newborn.
"You know that this can happen, but you don't understand the journey you go through until it happens to you," the 29-year-old said.
"The special care nursery is a roller-coaster of ups and downs.
"The birth of your baby is the supposed to be one of the most beautiful days of your life, and it was for us, but it was also filled with fear.
"There were days where I would spend all day beside her crying because I couldn't hold her.
"I was discharged after 48 hours without her. The hardest thing was walking away empty handed."
Kyla found herself torn between wanting to be with Airlie and also spending time with her oldest son Bailey and three step-children.
Kyla pays tribute to the tight-knit team of nurses in the unit.
"It takes a special person to do what they do, their compassion and their care," she marvels.
"There were days when they went above and beyond the call of duty. The days I was struggling... the girls in there would hug you.
"You form a bond with the other mums going through the same thing. You feel happy for those mums who get to take home their baby but you also feel jealousy.
"I was lucky that Airlie was as healthy as she was. There's mums and dads there that don't get to take their babies home."
With baby Airlie now thriving, Kyla Gold is determined to pay back the Tweed Hospital's special care nursery unit.
She has staged a series of fundraising events, which have so far generated $8100.
The money will go towards comfort packs for mothers, including items like water bottles and journals.
If you would like to contribute, money can be deposited in the account KRPhelps, BSB 062-611, account number 10243877.