Chris Benson, Hannah Young and Tariq Benson.
Chris Benson, Hannah Young and Tariq Benson. Contributed

'Gift of life' helps Mackay baby beat the odds

HOLDING your newborn baby for the first time, breastfeeding, sharing cuddles with family ... these are all moments Mackay woman Hannah Young waited three months to experience.

Tariq Benson was born at Mackay Base Hospital on November 8, 2018, his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck, with two true knots cutting off his oxygen source.

His traumatic start to life was just the beginning of a long and difficult journey. After three months spent in the Queensland Children's Hospital, Tariq finally returned home to Mackay yesterday to meet his grandparents and little sister for the first time.

It took a little while for Olivia to warm up to her new baby brother, but Ms Young said she is now excelling at her role as a protective big sister.

"At first she wanted to keep Tariq outside with the dogs, because she wanted a sister not a brother," Ms young laughed.

"Now she gives him cuddles and kisses, you can tell she adores him."

At four days old Tariq was rushed to Brisbane for emergency surgery. He had been diagnosed with an aortic arch, a hole in his heart and 'floppy' airways. It was a matter of life and death.

Tariq's mum and dad, Hannah Young and Chris Benson, had an anxious wait as their son was operated on for more than six hours. Ms Young said it was the most gut-wrenching experience of her life.

"The doctor had sat us down and explained to us how the surgery would work," she said.

"Tariq's heart was the size of a walnut and there were a lot of risks involved. He had to be put on a bypass machine during the operation while his aortic arch was opened up and the hole in his heart was patched up."

 

Tariq Benson underwent life saving open heart surgery at just four days old.
Tariq Benson underwent life saving open heart surgery at just four days old. Contributed

It was a bitter-sweet surprise for Ms Young when she found out a piece of another baby's heart had been used to save Tariq.

"It's incredibly upsetting when you realise your baby has survived because someone else has lost their child," she said.

"It would be a very difficult decision to make, but without organ donation we would never have had the opportunity to see Tariq grow up.

"I will be forever grateful to the families who have pushed through their grief and selflessly provided the gift of life to another baby."

Congenital cardiac surgeon Dr Prem Venugopal said Tariq's surgery had been extremely complex and would not have been possible without the availability of a homograft (heart tissue).

"The surgery consisted of opening his chest, placing him on a heart lung bypass machine, cooling him down to 20 degrees centigrade and stopping the heart," Dr. Venugopal said.

"We then widened the narrow aorta with a pulmonary homograft and closed the hole in his heart with a patch.

"Without the availability of the homograft, it would be next to impossible to repair the aortic arch with such positive results."

Following Tariq's operation, he was transferred to the paediatric intensive care unit for recovery, but the ordeal was not over yet.

Just when Ms Young thought Tariq was in the clear, she was given the heart stopping news that a complication had arisen during surgery.

Tariq had been left with a paralysed diaphragm, causing severe respiratory distress. The rare complication meant he would require ventilatory assistance for months.

Although Tariq's recovery was hindered, his strength surprised not only his parents but the doctors and nurses at the hospital.

Yesterday, three months after his first surgery, Tariq was finally discharged.

 

Tariq Benson underwent life saving open heart surgery at just four days old.
Tariq Benson has finally returned to Mackay, after three months spent in hospital in Brisbane. Rainee Shepperson

Ms Young is "over the moon" to be reunited with her family and friends.

Travelling back to Mackay with the Royal Flying Doctor Service yesterday, she said it was "a pretty special feeling to be going home".

"I'm excited for Tariq to meet the rest of his family and have all of the cuddles he missed out on while in hospital," she said.

For first-time dad Chris Benson, it hasn't been easy watching his son go through such an ordeal.

Returning to work to pay the bills was a sacrifice Ms Young said was difficult but necessary.

"It's been really hard for Chris because he had to go back to Moranbah for work just two weeks after Tariq was born," she said.

"We didn't really have a choice because we couldn't afford the trips to Brisbane without an income coming in.

"Chris has been able to visit Tariq in hospital a few times but it will be amazing to have the whole family back under one roof again."