Helping hands for light work

Mollie Skelton-Bond was born 13 weeks premature and weighing little over 1lb. Now, as she prepares to celebrate her tenth birthday, Catherine Scott catches up with her.

Mollie Skelton-Bond with her grandmother Brenda Bond

Mollie Skelton-Bond’s broad smile and twinkling eyes light up the room. She loves school and despite her small size she is enjoying martial arts where she is determined to become a black belt.

Yet behind the smile is a little girl who has undergone years of hospital treatment, cheated death on countless occasions and lost her mother before her second birthday.

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Mollie, who will be ten in December although she looks much younger, was born at just 27 weeks – full-term birth is 40 weeks – weighing 1lb 3oz in the Jessops Wing in Sheffield.

Mollie is one of 60,000 premature babies born in the UK every year. Monday marks World Prematurity Day and she will be attending a special event in Sheffield to mark the day.

Organised by Julie Bathie, sister on the Jessop Wing Neonatal Unit, who cared for Mollie, the event will see landmarks across the city turn purple, the colour of the Foundation for the Care of Newborn Infants and the Prematurity Campaign.

“One in ten babies are born prematurely and we want all their families to know that they are not alone,” explains Julie.

“The Jessop wing are teaming up with the Little Miracles Sheffield Bliss support group, Sheffield Hospitals Charity and the European Foundation for the Care of Newborn Infants to coordinate activities to draw attention to the serious and growing problem of preterm birth, and to offer hope to families that have been affected by it.”

It is testimony to the dedication and care of staff at the neonatal unit that babies like Mollie, from Retford, now have a better chance of survival.

Mollie was so small when she was born that she was smaller than the hands of the nurses trying to save her. Although her parents Gail Bond and Ricci Skelton were never given odds on her survival there were many times when they feared Mollie may not survive. Survive she did, but sadly her mother Gail died before Mollie turned two.

Gail suffered from liver disease, Crohn’s disease and ulcerated colitis. She had always been told it was highly unlikely she would be able to have children. So when she fell pregnant with Mollie she was determined to go ahead. Doctors said they could see no reason why she shouldn’t proceed with the pregnancy. But after four months, her ulcerated colitis flared up and Gail had to have intravenous steroids. Then a 26-week scan revealed a reduction in the amount of amniotic fluid around the baby and a week later Gail had to have an emergency caesarian section.

Mollie was taken immediately to the Special Care Baby Unit and her distraught parents could only watch, wait and hope – unable to even touch their baby.

Due to being so premature, Mollie’s lungs were underdeveloped and she had to be ventilated to help her breathe. She also had a bowel disease, a valve in her heart hadn’t closed properly, she need laser eye treatment to stop her going blind, she had stomach problems ,and doctors were concerned she might have hearing problems.

Mollie was kept in hospital for nine months, eventually being transferred to Sheffield Children’s Hospital. During this time she suffered a number of cardiac arrests and meningitis.

Eventually the day came when Gail and Ricci could take their poorly little girl home, but that was just the start of another challenging chapter. Mollie had oxygen tubes into her lungs and a feeding tube into her stomach. Her parents were taught resuscitation techniques and they lost count of the times she had to go back into hospital with one infection or another.

Hitting her first birthday was a huge milestone, but tragically Gail’s condition worsened and she died aged 38.

Now as she approaches her tenth birthday, Molly is exceeding doctors’ expectations, although it has been a long road, and more challenges are bound to be ahead.

Her strength of character and determination have seen her achieve everything she has set out to. She needs one to one support at school, as her learning is delayed due to her prematurity. She now enjoys being big sister to her siblings Charlie, four and Evie, three. Ricci married Rachel in 2009 in an emotional service which saw Mollie, walk down the aisle as their bridesmaid using a walking frame. A year later she was walking unaided and the nasal gastric feeding tube she’d had all her life was removed and replaced with a peg directly into her stomach.

“That was one of the best things we ever did. She’s now eating herself and, she has started having school dinners and slowly putting on weight,” said Rachel. Two years ago doctors said she could come off the oxygen.

“That was really scary time,” explains Rachel. “They had reduced the level of oxygen down gradually but then when they said she could come off it completely it was frightening as you don’t know what’s going to happen. But she was fine. Then when I took her to school for the first time without her oxygen it was so emotional. She always used to have to stand and watch the other children running around and she never complained about it, But the day I took her in without the oxygen she just ran off and started playing just like all the other children – which is all she really wants, to be like everyone else.”