Success Story For St Helena Airport | Sharon Henry
Eyelashes fluttering from baby dreams, seven week old Eli Thomas Yon sleeps on his mum’s lap, blissfully unaware of the scare he caused his family and medical staff just a day after his birth. Having developed a breathing problem, Eli made history at just three days old in becoming the first ever St Helena medevac by air. Within four hours he was flown to specialist medical care in Cape Town, a journey that would normally have taken five days by sea.
He has now returned home with a clean bill of health from the doctors and a set of relieved parents. “I can’t believe it’s been seven weeks,” says mum Patrice, “it went by so quickly and feels really good to be back.” Eli’s return placed him centre of attention with family, friends and well wishers befitting of a mini celebrity, all happy to see the little baby boy, safe and healthy.
Not Getting Enough Oxygen
Thankfully no surgery was required in Cape Town, Eli responded to treatment and regulated his own breathing within days as he grew stronger. “He might have been out of hospital in the first week hadn’t he also had a feeding problem,” says Patrice.
Eli was born by caesarean section a little prematurely at 36 weeks, “Which is probably why he had that problem,” Patrice explains. “What’s supposed to happen is when babies come down the birth canal they get squeezed where all the mucus is expelled from them. He didn’t get that.”
Midwife, Jenny Turner, had noticed a change in Eli’s breathing and colour the day after he was born. “They said it was respiratory distress, he was breathing too fast and not getting enough oxygen,” recalls Patrice.
Swift Action Plan for First St Helena Medevac by Air
Patrice says the medevac itself was a whirlwind affair and she felt like she was on “auto pilot.”
Plans for the emergency evacuation were swiftly put into action. “Everything happened so fast. I had him Wednesday night (1 June) just after 6.30pm; they discovered the problem Thursday mid-morning. By lunchtime he was on the oxygen machine. Then just after 11 that night Dr Kevin came in to say that he had to be medevaced. I wasn’t even thinking that it was going to be by plane, I was thinking by ship.”
The aircraft, a Dassault Falcon 20 arrived on the Friday, it was equipped to carry eight passengers, including medical crew. There was only space for the patient and a carer. Patrice was still recovering from the caesarean but she was determined to accompany Eli. “Otherwise my dad would have gone with him,” she says.
Early Saturday morning, 4 June 2016, the first ever St Helena medevac flight departed the island. They landed at Cape Town International where an immigration officer collected the relevant paperwork, greatly speeding up airport formalities.
It Feels Good Being A Mummy
Patrice’s partner Timmy Clingham and mum Coral travelled on the RMS St Helena to meet them in Cape Town six weeks later. They were introduced to the medical team who took care of Eli. “I met his one-on-one nurse,” says Coral, “and that was very emotional. It was so nice to meet them.”
“It feels really good being a mummy after so many years of trying,” smiles Patrice as she smoothes Eli’s hair for his WTSDN photo shoot. “The worst part was not knowing if he was going to be okay,” she recalls tearfully. “He probably wouldn’t have made it if he didn’t have the proper care. We are just extremely thankful to everybody who made it all possible for us.”