Mater Mum’s 21 year reflection and hope for Mater Little Miracle

Mater Mum’s 21 year reflection and hope for Mater Little Miracle

Tressa Lindenberg took a thankful walk down memory lane at Mater Mother’s Neonatal Critical Care Unit (NCCU) nearly 21 years after son Charles was born on 7 August 1996 at 25 weeks weighing just 877 grams.

Her reflection on Charles’s upcoming 21st birthday drew memories of Neonatology Specialist Dr Peter Gray and Neonatal Nurse Suzanne Bates, who were part of her thank you visit.

Tressa was living in Papua New Guinea when she began haemorrhaging in 1996, and there was no suitable facility to care for a woman who may give birth at 25 weeks gestation. Finding any help was difficult however they located an expat midwife from Ireland who could help if she did need to deliver the baby.

Getting off the island proved problematic as she was a high risk passenger and eventually the company her husband worked for organised a medivac flight to Townsville, where Tressa was stabilised and then flown to Brisbane’s Mater Mothers’ Hospital for specialised care.

By her side was her 10 year-old son Nick and six year-old daughter Yasmin.

On arrival at Mater Mothers’ Hospital, Charles’s heart rate dropped dramatically and he was born at midnight the next day via emergency caesarean section.

“My first look at my new baby was utter shock and I didn’t think there was any way he could survive,” Tressa said.

“His skin was transparent, what I could see of it, as there were so many tubes. Then the counselling started to prepare us on all that could go wrong and if he survives, what life would be like with a premature baby.

“The rollercoaster ride began!” she said.

For a few days Charles was stable, then he got an infection and suffered a brain haemorrhage and Tressa was told that if he survived, he may never walk or talk.

“I could not begin to explain how I felt as a mother, how our life would change if he even survived,” Tressa said.

“We had him baptised just in case but somehow I had a feeling he would make it, and be awesome.

“He started to meet milestones – for example we had a party when he got to 1 kg and then another when he got to 100 days old,” she said.

Charles finally came home from hospital on Christmas Eve 1996. He was on oxygen at home for six months and suffered seizures for three years.

Not only did Charles survive, but he is a bright and healthy young man.

Despite having cerebral palsy, with the his right side being affected, Charles graduated from Year 12, got his driver’s licence, has a full time job and is studying IT and International Studies at the University of Southern Queensland part-time.

If you ask Charles what some of his adversities are he jokingly refers to his mum who he says can’t cut the apron strings even as he approaches his 21st birthday.

Tressa agrees.

“The biggest thing I think for Charlie is that I’ve been so protective! He was a baby for such a long time and needed a lot of care, so letting go as well as being my last child has been really hard!,” Tressa laughs.

“I feel very grateful. To go through all of that and have such a good outcome is great.

“There were times I’d look at him and think ‘What is the outcome going to be? Is he going to walk and talk or is this how it’s going to be – what’s that going to look like moving forward for the family?’

“You just have to go with it and hope. It’s a bit surreal to think we’ve got this far. Charlie had to do the hard work, and he doesn’t whinge or complain,” Tressa said.

It was a reflective time for Neonatal Nurse Suzanne Bates, who cared for Charles during his journey in NCCU.

“It’s so rewarding to actually see we can make a difference. You don’t always get an opportunity to look back and see the difference you made,” Suzanne said.

Dr Peter Gray agrees.

“It’s rewarding for me too to see young adults!” Dr Gray said.

“I’m involved in the Growth and Development Clinic and I see the premature children up to the age of four years of age, but we don’t really see them beyond that.

“It’s really great to see the children when they’re young adults and hear how they’re doing and to know that without the team effort these little babies just wouldn’t survive.

“To come through despite everything is just great,” he said.

During their visit to NCCU Tressa and Charles also met mum Tash whose daughter Elizabeth was born at similar gestation and weight as Charles, and is currently on the rollercoaster ride they started 21 years ago.

“It’s hard and just yesterday I was really struggling with all the challenges that seemed to be facing us but today  I got some hope,” Tash said.

“I’m so grateful Tressa and Charles came to visit,” she said.

Mater Mothers’ Hospitals is able to provide life-saving care to 2000 seriously ill and premature babies in Mater’s Neonatal Critical Care Unit each year—one of Australia’s largest maternity services.


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