Queensland mum stuck in New Zealand with premature baby
A YOUNG Queensland family has been left in limbo after being told their baby, who was born in New Zealand prematurely, is too well to get a medical transfer - but too sick to fly home on a regular flight.
Little Billie Stevens has spent her first five and a half months fighting for her life in Christchurch Hospital.
She was born by emergency C-section on October 5 after doctors discovered her mum Brodie Soster, 34, who was visiting her family in her hometown of Greymouth but lives in Brisbane, had developed HELLP syndrome - a type of pre-eclampsia.
Soster was airlifted from Christchurch and because the condition can be fatal to both mum and baby, Billie was delivered at just 25 weeks gestation.
When she was born Billie weighed just 500g. For the first three weeks of her life she was too delicate to be held.
The little battler has made incredible progress over the last five and a half months, but is still on oxygen.
"She's had a few obstacles to get over obviously," Soster told the Herald on Sunday.
"The doctors advised she's fighting chronic lung disease and she's had a few different things. We almost lost her a few times. She's had eight blood transfusions, steroids, you name it she's pretty much had it.
"She is doing really well [now] but she's still on high requirements on oxygen and she will be on that for 18 months to 2 years."
Billie's dad Scott Stevens, 29, who is in the Australian army, spent as much time in New Zealand with his daughter and partner as he could before having to return to Brisbane for work in January.
He and Soster have been trying to organise a medical transfer funded by Queensland Health to get Billie back to Brisbane so the family can be together again.
Soster said Queensland Health had agreed to fly Billie in a specially fitted-out plane about two weeks ago.
She organised her daughter's passport so that they could leave whenever the transfer was ready.
"I said 'when can you pick her up' and [the Australian doctors] had a meeting to talk about her case and that's when they said 'Oh no she's well enough to hop on a normal flight, just put her on with a nurse'."
But, Soster said, Billie's doctors at Christchurch Hospital disagreed, saying she was too sick to go on a normal flight with other passengers.
"She's got a distended stomach from how long she's been on oxygen for and she won't be able to fly with a distended tummy. With the medical flight it would have been pressurised so it wouldn't have mattered."
The Australian doctors' change of heart has been "heartbreaking" for Soster.
"Obviously, after what we've been through the last six months, the last thing we want to do is put her life in danger."
To make matters worse, the situation is putting a strain on the family financially.
Soster's a New Zealand citizen, which means all of her and Billie's care is paid for. However, because she's not a New Zealand resident she doesn't qualify for any other financial assistance.
She's also entitled to 18 weeks' paid maternity leave in Australia. But can only claim the payments when she's in the country.
Soster is staying with her auntie in Christchurch but she and Stevens still have to pay their mortgage back home.
Steven's sister set up a gofundme page for the family when Billie was first born, raising more than $25,000. But the money's slowly diminished with the mortgage payments.
The doctors and nurses at Christchurch Hospital had provided Billie with "fantastic" care, she said.
"New Zealand has obviously taken on the cost, which is hundreds of thousands of dollars, to keep her alive."
A Canterbury district health board spokeswoman said Christchurch Hospital was unable to comment on the case for privacy reasons.
Queensland Health did not respond to a request for comment.
- Herald on Sunday