How a plastic bag helped baby born at 23 weeks survive

Little Leighton born at just 23 weeks has survived thanks to new neonatal technology being developed in Western Australia. Source: 7News

A baby born at just 23 weeks has survived thanks to new neonatal technology being developed in Australia.

Little Leighton was kept alive with a plastic bag, a method trialled on premature lambs.

Born 17 weeks before he was due, Leighton weighed 760 grams and was one of the earliest babies to survive in Australia.

Considered potentially “unviable”, doctors asked his parents if they should attempt resuscitation.

“We were asked it a good two, three times – ‘are you sure, are you sure?’ – because there is a very high chance he could walk away with long-term issues,” Bree Viner, Leighton’s mother said.

Leighton survived inside a plastic bag that was filled with oxygen to help his struggling lungs.

“I was terrified,” Ms Viner said.

“I felt like if I just touched him that I was going to break him, like he was so tiny and so fragile.”

Now UWA researchers are filling the bag with amniotic fluid and connecting it to an artificial placenta, replicating the womb for premature lambs.

The trial results are surprising even them.

“We’re getting better and better at maintaining extremely low birth weight,” Associate Professor Matt Kemp from the Women and Infants Research Foundation said.

Mother Bree Viner (right) with eight-month-old son Leighton. Source: 7News

Globally, an estimated 15 million babies are born pre-term each year and around a million won’t make it.

At 23 weeks, the survival rate is 20 to 35% but this technology could change that.

Now Leighton is a healthy, happy eight-month-old. “He’s a miracle and a half,” Ms Viner said. “Even the doctors say that he defies all odds.”

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