Published: Monday 16 May 2022

A young couple whose son was born prematurely at 30 weeks have been reunited with some of the emergency crews who helped safeguard the child and swiftly get them the care they needed.

Since the birth of their son Hunter in November, Jenna Cullen and partner Jack Harris, both 28, experienced several traumatic months with Hunter spending time in a specialist neonatal care unit at Singleton Hospital, Swansea.

At birth, Hunter weighed just 700g, but now safely back home together in Swansea and with Hunter weighing a fantastic 9lbs, the proud parents have reached out to tell their story and highlight the work of the Welsh Ambulance Service and the Emergency Medical Retrieval and Transfer team who attended them.

Jenna, who works for the DVLA, said: “Everything was fairly normal until around 20 weeks when I lost a lot of water, and after a scan they put me on weekly monitoring.

“At my 25+3 week scan, I was told the water had increased and that things were fairly normal.

“A week after that, I started suffering back pains but put this down to Hunter lying on my back.

“It eased by the following day but came back with a vengeance the next night, so we popped to the hospital who said I was not in labour and I may have slept awkwardly and we went back home.

“Six hours later, Hunter was born.”

Due to the early arrival, Hunter had not yet turned as most full-term babies would so was born feet-first which can carry extra dangers.

Jenna said: “I didn’t know what contractions felt like but I was in a lot of pain and by the time Jack had phoned 999 Hunter was almost here.

“I wrapped him in a towel and cleared his airways and got a little cry.

“I just kept him wrapped up warm and checked on him but he was quiet.

“I thought he was dead.”

It was then that Senior Paramedic for the Welsh Ambulance Service, Dai Bowen from nearby Cwmbwrla Ambulance Station, arrived and began emergency care on Hunter.

“Dai was amazing,” said Jenna.

“He came in and straight away began giving oxygen and he cut the cord for us also. I helped with the oxygen as Dai placed equipment upon hunter to monitor him. Without Dai and the other crew members, I don’t think my son would be here now. They definitely saved his life.”

Dai, 46, also from Swansea, had only minutes earlier begun his shift.

He said: “I’d booked on at six and checked my vehicle when I got my first job or ‘detail’ as we call it around 20 past down in Port Tennant. Control told me a young mother had given birth to a very premature baby. I was on my own in the rapid response vehicle so requested support and back-up as I knew we’d need an ambulance to get the baby to hospital.”

The control room were able to release an ambulance from nearby Merthyr to assist Dai due to the dangerous nature of such a young child being born.

Dai said: “I was greeted at the door by dad who was obviously very distressed, but with my 20 years in the ambulance service I was able to talk to him quickly and calmly and get him to show me to his partner.

“Jenna was so calm, bless her, and already had the baby in her arms – I thought the baby may have been stillborn. I quickly checked she was alright and then began to look at the little man. He was so premature and was very susceptible to losing heat and picking up infections. But then, I saw his little chest move and he took a breath on his own. That was it, action stations.”

Dai took the baby and made a resuscitation area in the couple’s lounge where he began working on Hunter and connecting him up to the monitoring equipment.

He said: “Hunter was making minimal effort, but we are lucky as we have great paediatric equipment and on this job it all worked really well. He was still very cold despite the warming mattresses we had on him and I just continued to keep him warm and monitor his levels.”

A Welsh Ambulance crew of Robert Shannon and David Griffiths soon arrived to support Dai.

Wales Air Ambulance also attended the scene, by road, from their base at Dafen to help deliver the critical care and advice that was so valuable to Hunter, providing things such as heat pads to keep his body temperature up during transfer to hospital.

On duty for the Wales Air Ambulance that day were Dr Jon Baily, Critical Care Practitioner Dewi Thomas and Helicopter Transfer Practitioner Jez James.

Jo Yeoman, Wales Air Ambulance Patient Liaison Nurse, said: “Our crew arrived with specialist neonatal equipment and made a rapid assessment while keeping baby Hunter warm.

“Premature babies are at high risk of a declining body temperature so they placed him in a special wrapping specifically designed to keep premature babies warm, covered him with a heated blanket and put a hat on his head to prevent heat-loss. They then attached him to some neonatal monitoring to assess his vital signs and contacted the Specialist Neonatologist at Singleton Hospital to arrange for direct admission to the specialist unit rather than going through Accident and Emergency.

“We are delighted that Hunter is doing so well.”

Call handler Emma Beynon picked up Jack’s 999 call at the Clinical Contact Centre in Carmarthen.

She said: “I’d been working a night shift and it was the last call before I was due to finish. It was quite traumatic as the baby was so premature. At the start of the call I thought it wasn’t going to be very good news.”

Emma, 36, from Narbeth and herself a mum of three girls, said: “I was supported by my manager Emma Colvin as it was only my second birth call – the first had come earlier that week. We were giving birthing advice and I remember the caller shouting that the baby was out and it was only the size of his hand. We didn’t think the baby was going to be born so soon but it happened really quickly on the call. But most importantly the baby was breathing.

“The crew got there very quickly which was the saviour I think. It’s remained a call that has stuck in my mind and I’m so happy to find out that baby Hunter is doing really well along with mum.”

The couple were able to spend a lot of time together at the hospital with Hunter thanks to a change in visiting restrictions.

Of the care Hunter received at Singleton’s intensive care unit and their special care nursery, Jenna said: “They were absolutely brilliant and nothing was too much. The staff and the consultant there were all so good. We’re lucky to have such good facilities here.”

Picture credit: Beth Eales Welsh Ambulance Service