First aid session at hospital enables mom to save her premature baby

Parents advised to learn infant first aid and CPR

Friday, November 16 2018

A mother was able to save her baby from choking, thanks to first aid training instruction she received at an Alberton hospital prior to her baby being discharged home.

Bianca Franco from Mulbarton, Johannesburg, says that she got “the fright of her life” when little five-month-old Mason — who was born prematurely by emergency caesarean section at Netcare Clinton Hospital on 28 April at just 24 weeks and a weight of only 560 grams — one day started gasping for air after he had been discharged home.

“I was feeding and burping Mason when he suddenly started gasping for breath and going blue; it was an extremely frightening experience,” relates the 30-year-old first time mom.

“Fortunately the neonatal intensive care unit [NICU] at Netcare Clinton Hospital insists that moms and caregivers undergo a short training session in baby first aid and CPR before the little ones are discharged home. Remembering what I had been taught there, I checked Mason’s airways for an obstruction, placed him face down on my knee, and gave him a solid thump on his back. To my huge relief this helped in clearing his airway and restoring his breathing.

Pic: Baby Mason who was born prematurely by emergency caesarean section at Netcare Clinton Hospital on 28 April at just 24 weeks and a weight of only 560 grams. His mother, Bianca Franco, says that the first aid instruction she received at the hospital enabled her to save Mason after he choked.

“We then rushed Mason, who had apparently suffered reflux and inhaled fluid into his lungs to the hospital’s NICU where he could be ventilated and properly treated by paediatric neonatologist, Dr Klaas Mnisi, and his team there.”

Franco believes that was it not for the first aid and CPR training she received at the hospital, her baby would not be alive today. “I am deeply grateful for that two-hour training session, which covered all the basics of baby first aid and equipped me with the knowledge and skill to save my precious little boy’s life.”

Sister Sharlene Glaus of the NICU at Netcare Clinton Hospital explains that when an infant inhales, or aspirates, water into their lungs it can cause a dangerous fluid build-up in the lungs and results in the lungs becoming inflamed, such as occurred in Mason’s case. This is known as aspiration pneumonia, and Mason consequently had to spend a further four weeks in hospital recovering before he was discharged home recently.

According to Sr Glaus, who was speaking on World Prematurity Day on 17 November, highly premature infants are highly vulnerable as they are usually born with underdeveloped lungs and other organs, and can face a number of health challenges for the first two years of their lives. Long-term care at a specialised NICU such as that at Netcare Clinton Hospital after birth, however, considerably improves their chances of survival.

“Mason was particularly premature and had to spend close on four months at our unit. During that time, the team formed a close bond with this little fighter and his parents. It was therefore of concern to us that he suffered this setback and had to spend further time in our care. Mason once again showed his fighting spirit, however, and we are delighted that he made such a strong recovery,” adds Sr Glaus.

She stressed that first aid and CPR training for parents of premature babies is important: “We insist that moms and carers undergo the training before these little babies go home, to empower them in case of an incident. The training, as proved in Mason’s case, can be positively life-saving.”

Highly experienced and certified instructor, Vanessa Beytell, provides the first aid course at Netcare Clinton Hospital, which covers CPR and other emergency first aid care such as what to do in the event of choking. She says that first aid and CPR for infants differs significantly from that for adults, and is constantly being developed and advanced.

“As a result of their small size and under-development at birth, these premature babies face a number of unique challenges, including a higher risk of choking and suffering cardiac arrest. The training we provide enables parents and caregivers to better manage these worst-case scenarios,” notes Beytell.

“We have had a great deal of positive feedback on the sessions from mothers, who say they feel more reassured after completing it, and there have been instances in which it had actually saved lives.

“For these reasons, I thoroughly enjoy providing this training. We strongly recommend that it is not just the parents of premature babies who should undergo such training, but that all of those who care for children should have at least a basic understanding of first aid and CPR, so they know what to do in the event of an emergency,” she concludes.


Emergency medical services provider Netcare 911 recommends the following steps be followed if a baby under the age of one year chokes or suffers from seriously impeded breathing:

  • While waiting for professional help to arrive, check the mouth/airway for obstructions. If there is an obstruction or blockage, try to clear the baby’s airway by means of back slaps or chest thrusts if you are able to do so safely.
  • To do back slaps, kneel down and place the baby face down on your forearm, which rests on your thigh for stability.
  • Angle the baby so that her head and neck are lower than the body, and the face is supported in the palm of your hand.
  • Thump the baby’s back between the shoulder blades firmly with your free hand up to five times. This motion and gravity together should help to clear the blockage from the airway.
  • Keep checking the inside of the baby’s mouth to see whether the object or obstruction has been dislodged.

Should the five back slaps be unsuccessful:

  • Turn the infant onto her back so that the body rests on your thigh. Hold the baby’s head in the palm of your one hand, with her face turned up but the head lower than the body.
  • If there is no obvious foreign object visible in the mouth, place two fingers on the centre of the baby’s chest, just below an imaginary line between the nipples, and give up to five quick downward chest thrusts. Press down approximately half of the diameter of the baby’s chest (about 4cm).
  • If the baby is conscious but still unable to cough, or breathe, repeat the sequence of up to five back slaps and up to five chest thrusts until the object is dislodged or the baby becomes unconscious.
  • If the baby becomes unconscious, place the baby face-up on the floor. Open the airway (tilt the head sideways and lift the chin) and check for breathing. If the baby is not breathing, open her mouth and carefully remove any visible foreign object that you can see. If you cannot see an object, do not blindly put your finger in baby’s mouth as you might just push the object further down into the airway.
  • Start rescue breaths if the baby is not breathing. Place your mouth over the baby’s mouth and nose and give her one breath per second until you see the chest rise, but do it gently so as not to cause over-inflation of the baby’s lungs. If there is still no breathing or movement, start CPR (do 30 chest compressions for every two breaths). Look for a visible foreign object each time you open the baby’s airway to give the breaths, and if you see an object, carefully remove it if you can.
  • Continue administering CPR as above until the emergency services arrive or the baby starts breathing.
  • If the baby is breathing, turn her onto her side (into the recovery position) and stay with her until help arrives.

To find out more about the services offered through Netcare hospitals and other of the Group’s facilities, please contact Netcare’s customer service centre: email: [email protected] or phone 0860 NETCARE (0860 638 2273). Note that the centre operates Mondays to Fridays from 08:00 to 16:30.

For more information on this media release, contact MNA at the contact details listed below.

Issued by:           MNA on behalf of Netcare Clinton Hospital
Contact:               Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Meggan Saville and Estene Lotriet-Vorster
Telephone:        (011) 469 3016
Email:                   [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] or [email protected]