Abu Dhabi: Born at just 24 weeks, little Fatima was a miracle to her parents from the start. She was the only one among quadruplets who survived the early delivery in 2014.
And even with all the health concerns associated with a premature delivery, Fatima showed herself to be a fighter.
After she was moved to NMC ProVita, a long-term post-acute rehabilitative centre in the capital, her progress in reaching the developmental milestones has left everyone around her awed.
Today, the four-year-old Emirati is able to wave her hands and even turn her head, even as she breathes through a ventilator. Her parents now hope that Fatima will eventually go on to lead a full life without ventilator support.
“I want her to live the way every child her age lives — being spoiled by her mother and me, fighting with her brother, and going to school with her friends. We’ve actually already started applying to schools for her, hopeful that it won’t be long until she’s enrolled,” Abdullah Al Tunaiji, an Emirati government administrator in his forties, told Gulf News.
I want her to live the way every child her age lives — being spoiled by her mother and me, fighting with her brother ... We’ve actually already started applying to schools for her.”
- Abdullah Al Tunaiji | Emirati father
Al Tunaiji remembers clearly the day Fatima was born, and how worried he and his wife had been.
“Since my wife was carrying quadruplets, we knew that there was only a slim chance all four babies would survive. My wife went into labour one day and upon rushing her for surgery to the hospital, we learnt that only the first baby had survived,” the father said.
“I was worried about my wife, saddened about the remaining three babies but also tremendously overjoyed to have a beautiful daughter. Finally meeting her was indescribable. At the same time, I was also extremely worried about Fatima and her well-being — she immediately had difficulties with her lungs and movement, which were a threat to her continued survival,” he added.
Weighing just 600 grams at birth, Fatima spent months in the neonatal intensive care unit. She was then transferred to NMC ProVita as a 15-month-old.
“Premature delivery comes with its own set of medical issues. There is generalised weakness, a risk of brain bleeds and retinopathy. Because the lungs are not fully developed at birth, it is also difficult for the child to get enough oxygenated blood. And Fatima was also on a ventilator, which increased the chance of her developing infections due to the tracheostomy (incision in the windpipe),” said Dr Mohammad Al Hayek, paediatric specialist at NMC ProVita.
But with the help of a multidisciplinary team comprising medical experts and therapists, Fatima is doing much better now. Not only does she weigh a healthy 14.5 kilograms, she has also learnt to turn her head and can roll into a prone position. She is also able to smile, move her upper limbs and even blow flying kisses, and she easily recognises her parents and Khalifa, her 13-year-old brother.
“She is learning to sit without support for 10-15 minutes at a time, and I am delighted to note that she can spend up to 18 hours a day off the ventilator,” Dr Al Hayek said.
Al Tunaiji and his wife have been following their daughter’s development closely.
“We visit her every single day, and teach her as best as we can how to chew, swallow or speak. We also sit in on her therapy sessions, focusing on her physiotherapy, where we help her sit up and encourage her to move her arms and hold her toys, as well on her speech lessons, making sure she knows how to say ‘baba’ (the Arabic word for father). And I feel like there is something to rejoice in every single day,” Al Tunaiji said.
Dr Al Hayek explained that Fatima has overcome all her infant concerns, and while she may not match peers of her age in terms of her abilities, there is a very good chance that she can go on to speak and walk on her own.
“Already, Fatima can make noises with a speaking valve. The eventual goal is to ensure her full survival off the ventilator,” he added.
Dressed in a printed frock with two pretty red bows in her hair, Fatima lights up the room as she meets with Gulf News and smiles at the people around her.
Al Tunaiji says he feels immense pride as a father as he takes in all the improvement she has made.
“Insha Allah (God willing) she continues her fantastic journey towards recovery at NMC ProVita. We regularly take Fatima home for a visit, and that I look forward to the day she is discharged and can come home for good,” he added.