Alfie Ashcroft has the same interests as big brothers, Hamish and Dougal, and identical twin, Rory. Like any little boy, cars, toy swords and rough’n’ tumble makes his eyes light up.
Alfie and Rory (now age ten) were born by emergency caesarean section 10 weeks prematurely.
“I was in a lot of pain in the final days of my pregnancy, which I put down to the fact that I was carrying twins,” explained mum, Emma.
It transpired ‘twin to twin transfusion syndrome’ had occurred during Emma’s pregnancy – a condition affecting identical twin foetuses, caused by abnormal connecting blood vessels in the placenta and resulting in an imbalanced flow of blood from one twin to another.
Within hours of the boys’ birth, Emma and partner Dave were informed that Alfie had suffered a brain haemorrhage.
“I could hold them for five to 10 minutes each day, then have to return them to the incubator,” remembers Emma. “While I desperately wanted to be there to bond and feed them, I felt terribly torn between them and my big boys at home. It was an incredibly tough beginning for all of us.”
After 10 days ‘full time’ in hospital with her new-borns, Emma started splitting her time between Ninewells Hospital in Dundee and home, in 24 hour chunks. At home life continued, being mum to Dougal (2) and four-year-old Hamish, who had just started school.
After the caesarean, Emma was not able to drive so the 90 minute trips to the hospital were made by many friends and family. The boys grew in weight and strength, and were able to go home after seven weeks.
However, at the age of seven months, a physiotherapist friend of Emma’s established during play that the muscles in Alfie’s legs were stiffer than those of twin, Rory.
“When I saw the paediatrician, it became clear he was lagging behind Rory, and wasn’t reaching the same milestones,” said Emma. “I knew cerebral palsy was a possibility, but had convinced myself that wouldn’t be the case.”
Alfie first attended the Cerebral Palsy Scotland centre in March 2009 for a two-week block of intensive therapy, where parents, grandparents, community physiotherapists and educational support staff joined in.
Alfie began sitting up unaided for a little while, and demonstrated a determination and strength in his legs his family hadn’t seen before.
“The whole experience at the therapy centre taught us that we’re not alone in this. The staff were so professional, pleasant and un-fazed by it all. Physically and emotionally, for Alfie and all of us, it was a fantastic experience. It really was a turning point for us – of acceptance of Alfie’s cerebral palsy and that, although life will be very different for him, it does not mean it will be bad.”