‘Preemie’ baby’s family stranded in London

Proud parents Phil DeBruin and Sydney Hallett with their baby son Blake, born prematurely.

Fundraising underway to help with unexpected costs

LONDON – Premature childbirth is a stressful and often life-threatening experience that is made even more difficult when the best medical resources are far from home. Add on a global pandemic with numerous restrictions as part of public health safety measures and the challenging situation can be devastating for new parents.

That’s exactly what happened to Manitoulin Island couple Sydney Hallett and Phil DeBruin this past month.

“It would have been Friday (March 27) at about 4:30 am. I was not feeling good so we went to the hospital in Mindemoya and they figured out that I was in premature labour,” said Ms. Hallett. “They were deciding whether to send me to Sudbury or to London, but they decided on London because I was only 25 weeks pregnant. Sudbury only takes people after 28 weeks.”

The couple got ready with the help of paramedics as a plane took off from Timmins, bound for the Manitoulin East Municipal Airport. Ms. Hallett managed to be stabilized and her and Mr. DeBruin boarded their plane. Just 45 minutes later they were on the ground in London and taken to the hospital. 

“The whole paramedic team was awesome through the entire thing. They did a great job,” said Mr. DeBruin.

Ms. Hallett’s labour was on hold after she had been stabilized which allowed London doctors to give her magnesium and steroid treatments to foster more rapid growth over the next two days. On Sunday at about 2 am, Blake Stuart DeBruin emerged into the world, weighing just one pound and 10 ounces (737 grams) and measuring 32 centimetres or a foot in length.

Breathing was a challenge for little Blake. He was put on a CPAP machine at the start to help him take breaths, but soon had to be intubated on a ventilator. Blake also has a feeding tube and a catheter and is watched closely in the neonatal intensive care unit at the hospital.

Due to public health policies, the facilities where parents would normally stay were unavailable so Ms. Hallett and Mr. DeBruin have been set up in a small hotel room, with those costs covered. With premature babies, however, parents can expect them to stay within hospital care until at least their original due date—in this case, July at the very earliest.

The travel restrictions, especially with Blake’s fragile condition, means that his parents cannot travel except for necessities to ensure they minimize their risk of contracting COVID-19. They left Manitoulin with just the clothes on their backs and have had to purchase new clothes as well as all of their own food. The hotel room only hosts a mini-fridge and a microwave so their options for cooking are rather limited.

Further to the restrictions, only one parent is allowed in the hospital every 24 hours and they must go through extensive screening steps just to get inside. This combined with the other stipulations means even immediate family members cannot travel to visit and support the new parents or see little Blake in the hospital. It is a very isolating time, especially following a premature birth which can be very traumatic for new parents and their families.

“It’s been so hard with everyone, all our family, back on the Island,” said Ms. Hallett, adding that only being able to see her son every other day is very difficult. “It’s hard but when I’m not there I know Phil’s there, so it’s not as bad.”

Ms. Hallett has been producing milk for Blake but due to the virus she has to undertake extensive sanitizing procedures for the pump equipment, no easy task in a small hotel room.

To help the family with the stresses and pressures of their situation, Ms. Hallett’s aunt Rebecca Poulin organized a GoFundMe page to help them with their living expenses over the next few months and to help afford supplies for the baby.

The original goal was set at $3,000. As of press time Monday, well over double the original goal had been raised and more donations were still coming in.

“I’m so amazed by the support, I don’t even know what to say,” said Ms. Hallett, a Mindemoya resident. “All the support from family and friends and even people that I don’t know but are from the Island—it’s amazing.”

“Thank you for all the support. It means so much. It’s going to help us a lot; we still need a lot of stuff,” said Mr. DeBruin, whose home is in Kagawong.

The GoFundMe is still accepting donations for the first-time parents and their premature son Blake as they navigate these truly unprecedented times. To donate, visit GoFundMe.com and search for ‘Blake DeBruin.’