Baby's smile inspires record run for funds

Esmae Walker's fight for life has seen a record number of people sign up to a charity event. Catherine Scott reports.

A tiny baby has inspired a record sign-up to a Sheffield Hospitals’ charity event which will raise vital funds to support the doctors and nurses who saved her life.

Esmae Walker had to be rushed for urgent specialised care at the city’s Jessops Unit having been born after 27 weeks of pregnancy, weighing just 2lb 4oz.

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Now parents Rochelle and Thomas, both 35 from Bramley, Rotherham, have been inspired to round up a 50-strong army of participants for the Jessops Superheroes event as a thank you to the specialists who helped her daughter.

Fighter: Little Esmae Walker born at just 27 weeks is now doing well

“Apart from an occasional bleed, I was having a normal pregnancy and things were progressing well. Then after work one day I had another small bleed and felt a bit unwell, so I went to the hospital as a precaution,” says Rochelle.

“When we got to the hospital they did the usual checks and a physical examination. I was told I was in advanced labour, and just two hours later Esmae arrived by emergency Caesarean section. She was taken away and I caught a glimpse of the incubator but didn’t see her for a long while after that.

“I was terrified – not for myself but for Esmae, 27 weeks was so early. She was born in Rotherham Hospital, but 24 hours later was transferred to the Jessop Wing Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for specialist care following a bleed on her lungs. When we arrived, we were told she had bleed on her brain as well. We were completely devastated.

“The next few days were a blur, then we received a phone call at 1am to ask us to go in. Luckily we were staying on site in the parent rooms next to the ward so we were only minutes away. Esmae had developed Necrotising Enterocolitis (NEC), an inflammation of the bowel and her bowel had perforated. She needed emergency surgery if she was to survive the night.

Fighter: Little Esmae Walker born at just 27 weeks is now doing well

“The surgeons told us to say our goodbyes as there was a chance she wouldn’t survive the operation. At this point we’d still not held her or picked her up, she was still so tiny. I can’t explain how we felt that night – it was the worst night of our lives. We’d only had this amazing little girl in our lives for a week and she could have been taken away from us. I cry every time I think about it – having to say goodbye and having not held her or kissed her.

“Five hours later we learned the operation was successful, the relief washed over us but we knew she still had a long road ahead. Leaving Esmae every night was horrendous particularly when she was so ill. It’s not natural to be away from your newborn baby – it goes against all of your instincts.

“We were offered one of the parent flats, funded by Sheffield Hospitals Charity and, just five minutes walk from the hospital. It was an absolute godsend. I was expressing breastmilk so one of us used to visit in the middle of the night. Seeing that she was OK allowed us to have a few hours’ sleep.

“Without the flat we would barely have slept and certainly wouldn’t have eaten. I can’t imagine driving from Rotherham every day knowing Esmae was so ill – neither of us would have been fit to drive in such an emotional state. The flats and rooms on the ward are a lifeline for parents.”

Babies cared for on the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit are amongst the country’s most seriously-ill patients. For parents this means spending weeks, even months in hospital not knowing if their child will survive.

“Esmae is nine months old now and due to severe reflux she is tube fed, which she will have an operation to correct at some point. She is doing really well and piling on the weight.

“We don’t know what the bleed on her brain means for her yet –that is a waiting game but for now she is hitting milestones and is the happiest and most content baby and we are just happy to have her home, even if it was six months late.

“We can’t speak highly enough of everyone in the NICU. Sometimes you are taking things hour by hour and then if you’re lucky day by day and so on. Things can change so quickly so it’s vital that the docs and nurses are available and most importantly approachable for you to ask questions. They are not only providing life-saving care for the babies but also a huge amount of support for the parents. They saved our daughter’s life and we can never say thank you enough to every single person who was involved in her care.

“Our friends and family have been amazing and we’ve roped 50 of them to take part in this year’s Jessops Superheroes. I’m hopeful we’ll smash our £1,500 target and raise as much as we can for a very special hospital.”

Jessops Superheroes, sponsored by DuoCall, is a sponsored 2.5k or 4k family walk, buggy push, toddle or trike to help raise funds for the city’s tiniest patients. The event takes place on Sunday May 21 at Graves Park at 10.30am. There is a £15 minimum sponsorship for all who take part and everyone will receive a free superhero cape or bib.

For more information, or to register, visit