Born much earlier than their due date, preemies are ill-equipped to leave their mums’ womb. But with loving and expert care from veteran neonatologist Roy Joseph and his team, some 5,450 severely premature babies have had a stab at survival.
Born before 33 weeks and usually weighing under 1.5 kg, this group of tiny babies needs lots of special equipment and skilled nurses and doctors to help them survive, says Associate Professor Roy, a 68-year-old emeritus consultant from the department of neonatology at the National University Hospital (NUH).
And if you include those born between week 33 and 36 of gestation, over 17,000 preemies would have passed through Prof Roy’s hands over the last 35 years.
He tells Young Parents that one of his tiniest survivors was born a featherweight 480g at 26 weeks. With around-the-clock care from his team, she is now five years old and is relatively unscathed despite her severe prematurity.
Caring for preemies has come a long way, in fact. Just 50 years ago, preemies born under 1kg in Singapore would not have survived.
But medical advances now make it possible for the majority to cheat death.
Today, preemies born earlier than 27 weeks, and/or weighing under 1kg, have a 70 per cent chance of surviving, although they will be very sick at birth. And more than half will grow up perfectly healthy, says Prof Roy.
The odds are even better for older preemies weighing between 1.5kg and 2.5kg. Almost all of them will survive and do well with the right medical care, he adds.