Emmanuel Boateng is a happy, healthy little boy who had an extraordinary start to life. Born three months premature, Emmanuel fought off life-threatening infection before becoming King’s youngest survivor of COVID-19. Little wonder then that he has earned the family nickname: ‘miracle baby’.
“Emmanuel was due on 27th April 2020, but he arrived unexpectedly on 30th January,” says mum Evelyn.
“I developed severe abdominal pains and went to King’s A&E department with my husband, Akuamoah, just expecting to be given some sort of medication to ease the pain. But the midwife on duty said: ‘No Mum, he’s ready to come. You’re going to have your baby tonight.’
“I couldn’t believe it. I was very scared because it was so early and he would be so young, I was only 27 weeks. We’d had no time to plan or prepare anything for him. I’d not even bought him any clothes. But all the maternity staff were so kind and supportive, and Emmanuel arrived safely.”
Emmanuel grew stronger day by day, and on 20th March 2020, he was finally able to leave hospital and go home to South East London.
But just a week later Emmanuel was back in King’s, fighting for his life.
“He suddenly stopped feeding,” says Evelyn. “We tried everything, but he just wouldn’t take any milk. We made an appointment with our GP and when he still showed no sign of wanting to feed, she advised us to take him to A&E.”
The medical team soon discovered that Emmanuel had contracted an extremely serious infection called sepsis.
“I hadn’t really heard of sepsis before,” says Evelyn. “I thought he had got a simple infection that would be easy to treat but then the doctor said: ‘Mum, in the next three to four hours we might lose him’.”
“I just broke down. I couldn’t believe this was happening to us. Everything happened so quickly but the thing I remember vividly is all the doctors, nurses and consultants coming to him, trying their best to save him and doing everything they could to help me too.
“The next day, they transferred him to the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) where they did lots of tests. They told me they wanted to test for COVID-19 to see if this could be one of the reasons for the infection. In my mind I was sure it would return negative but when the result came back, and they told me it was positive it all became too much. I just cried and cried.
“At one point I was told he had a 20 per cent chance of survival. I couldn’t take that. I needed to hear that my son was going to be fine. The nurses comforted me and said: ‘Mum, we’re going to do everything we can.’ They were so supportive.”
Evelyn will never forget the care they received at King’s, and she is now urging everyone to support King’s College Hospital Charity.
“Every person we met really tried their best to help us in every little way that they could,” says Evelyn.
“It’s that love and support that makes King’s a very special hospital.
"The family rooms and other charity-funded facilities also helped to make the terrible times more bearable because I had somewhere private and comfortable to rest for a while. I didn’t know about King’s College Hospital Charity before Emmanuel was born but, its work is so important because it helps the hospital to save lives. If more people support the charity, King’s staff will be able to help more families like mine.”
Emmanuel is King’s youngest survivor of COVID-19 so when it was time for him to finally go home on 27th April 2020 – his original due date – the hospital asked if they could film the occasion.
“We got a round of applause when we left,” says Evelyn. All the team lined the corridor to say goodbye and to celebrate. They had all worked so hard to make sure Emmanuel survived, and we were very happy to allow the filming because it was something we could do to say thank you for all the care they had given us.”
The COVID-19 diagnosis meant that Evelyn had to leave Emmanuel and self-isolate at home for 14 days with her husband and their eldest son Morris, who was only four at the time.
“It was unbearable knowing that I couldn’t be with Emmanuel when he was so sick, but the PICU team did everything they could to reassure me. They said, 'you can call us as many times as you like at any time of the day or night and we will tell you how he is doing.’ That helped us a lot."
“It was such a worrying time for us, but my husband tried to hide the pain because we needed to be strong for Morris. He was too young to understand what was happening and kept asking:
"‘Where is my baby brother? I want to put my arms around my baby brother’. All we could do was hope for the best, pray every day, and try to keep strong for both our boys.”
When the 14 days were up, King’s called Evelyn to tell her that she could come in to see Emmanuel but, due to COVID-19 restrictions, only she could visit him.
“I couldn’t wait to go back and see him,” says Evelyn. “By that time, he’d made a massive improvement. They were able to take him off his ventilator and gradually reduced all his medications.
“He’d got the 'all clear’ from a second COVID-19 test but they told me they needed to test again. I was praying for it to come back negative and it surely did. I called my husband and we were both screaming for joy on the phone. We were very, very happy. I knew then that Emmanuel was going to be ok.
“All the nurses were so happy too, and they continued to care for him, as if he were their own child, turning him on his tummy and giving him cuddles as he grew stronger.”
Now safely back at home, Emmanuel is just like any other child of his age, melting hearts with his smile and becoming more independent every day.
“Sometimes it’s hard to believe that the start of year was so traumatic,” says Evelyn.
“When he was sick in hospital, Emmanuel was so quiet. I longed to hear him cry; I just wanted that normality. But I remember my husband saying: When he eventually comes home and starts crying, you’ll soon be asking him to please keep quiet – and he was right!
“It’s wonderful to see Emmanuel so well now after everything he’s been through. Whenever my mother-in-law calls, she asks: ‘How is miracle baby doing today?’. So that’s his nickname now – miracle baby!”