She weighed just a little more than a can of cool drink at birth but Ruaché Botha’s parents are hopeful.
Mari (28) and Johan (37) from Kempton Park, Johannesburg, struggled to have a child for more than three years. So when Mari eventually fell pregnant, they were ecstatic.
“I have lupus, an autoimmune disease. When I was 16 weeks pregnant, scans showed blood clots in the umbilical cord. Ruaché wasn’t getting enough nutrients,” Mari tells YOU.
On 15 May, when Mari was just 26 weeks pregnant, doctors performed a C-section. The micro-premature baby weighed just 440g and was 26cm long – less than a ruler’s length.
She’s been in the Life Wilgers Hospital in Pretoria since then.
“She was the size of a 19-week-old fetus because she hadn’t been growing properly,” Mari explains.
Doctors prepared Ruaché’s parents for the worst. Her chances of survival were slim.
“I prepared myself for the fact that she’d be tiny. I used to be a paramedic and often transported premature babies in incubators. But she was so small – she was no longer than a pen,” Johan says.
Though he’d prepared himself for Ruaché being in danger, he’d expected his wife to be fine. But Mari suffered a blood clot in her lung, followed by more clots in her kidneys. She spent 50 days in high care, fighting for her life.
“I didn’t see Ruaché for the first month [of her life] – I wasn’t allowed near her because the risk of infection was so great,” says Mari, who was discharged a week ago but is still on dialysis.
“My kidney function still looks bad but doctors believe it’ll improve.”
Johan’s voice cracks with emotion when he talks about what he says to his daughter when he visits her. “I speak to her and tell her how proud we are of her . . .”
When Johan’s voice trails off, Mari speaks. She says she sings to their baby. “I sing Jesus loves me and other children’s songs. Sometimes she’ll grab my finger.”
The couple haven’t been able to hold Ruaché yet.
The little one has had surgery to repair a hole in her intestines. A bag was inserted as a substitute for her colon. It’ll be removed later when she’s stronger.
“That’s what we’re looking forward to next – to finally get to hold her. Now, we can only place our hands on her,” Mari says.
Looking at pictures taken of Ruaché two months ago it’s clear to see the baby has grown and gained some body fat. Mari and Johan say Ruaché has just reached a major milestone – she now weighs 1kg and is 34cm tall.
The baby girl is fed donated breast milk from the South African Breastmilk Reserve. Mari says she’s only fed a teaspoonful of milk per feeding.
“A few days ago she developed an infection that had us worried, but she’s better now. She’s off the ventilator,” Johan says. The little girl still gets oxygen.
“She’s doing better and last night [Tuesday] Johan heard her voice for the first time because the tubes have been removed from her throat. I haven’t heard it yet but he says it’s a soft, mousy voice,” Mari says.
She’s tiny, but she’s a fighter, Mari chuckles. “She’s obstreperous when the nurses turn her onto her left side – she only wants to lie on her right side. She often frowns and has a range of facial expressions.”
The Bothas hope to have Ruaché home by her dad’s birthday in September. Before she can be discharged, Ruaché has to weigh at least 1,8kg, drink eight bottles a day, not need oxygen and be infection-free.
“We’re hoping and praying that she’ll be able to come home on 15 September. That’s all I want for my birthday – both my girls at home,” Johan says.