Baby girl born 16 weeks early during family holiday defies all odds and is now home

For every parent, taking their newborn child home for the first time is a special moment.

But for Bethany and Jan Cleathero, stepping through their front door with baby Molly in their arms was even more precious.

Their tiny girl had already been through so much. Born 16 weeks prematurely 2,700 miles from home on the last day of a family holiday in Cyprus, she weighed less than 2lb.

The tiny tot was given a 60% chance of survival, and needed round-the-clock hospital care and a flight back to Britain in a specialist aircraft.

When her frightened mum and dad found their insurance wouldn’t cover the costs, they were left facing an eye-watering £46,500 bill.

But finally, Bethany and Jan got Molly home 101 days after she was born, following 14 weeks in hospital in two different countries and a repatriation flight paid for with the help of a children’s air ambulance charity.

Bethany says: “We were told Molly wouldn’t survive, but she has.

“For someone so little, she is so strong and has overcome so much.”

It was June when the couple, both 28, set off for an all-inclusive resort holiday on the outskirts of Ayia Napa with their daughters Bella, eight, Phoebe, three, and other relatives.

Bethany, a microblading technician, says: “We thought it was our last holiday as a family of four before the baby came along. I was 24 weeks pregnant so didn’t have any concerns.”

On the last day of the family’s week-long break, Bethany started feeling unwell.

She says: “I couldn’t sleep and I was up all night with these tightening pains coming every four or five minutes.”

Her third child wasn’t due until October 4, when Bethany was booked in for a caesarean, so she didn’t think she was in labour.

She says: “I thought I must have had a water or kidney infection.

“I kept thinking, ‘We’re going home tomorrow, just get through the night’.”

But by the morning, the pain had become unbearable.

A confused Bethany was taken to the nearest GP surgery. She says: “They rushed me into theatre, I got onto the table and I felt my body push. It never crossed my mind until the doctors told me I was having this baby now.”

The date was June 29 – more than three months before the baby was due.

Jan says: “I was terrified I could lose Beth and the baby as well.”

Bethany adds: “The next thing I knew I was being put to sleep and when I woke up, she was gone. I didn’t know if she was alive.”

Molly, who weighed 1lb 10oz – less than a bag of sugar – had been transferred to another hospital.

Baby charity Tommy’s gives babies born at 25 weeks about a 60% chance of surviving.

She was three days old before Bethany got to see her again. “I couldn’t believe how tiny she was,” she says. “Her hand was the size of my thumbnail.

“She was perfect, but in miniature. We called her Molly because she looked like a dolly.”

Jan, a builder, flew back home to Cullompton, Devon, with the couple’s eldest daughters and had an anxious wait to hear if his baby was going to make it through.

He says: “For about a week, I prepared myself for the worst – that I would never meet Molly.”

Bethany, still in Cyprus, could only visit her baby for one hour each day.

Then the couple discovered their health insurance card did not cover the costs of ongoing care or flying Molly home by air ambulance.

The family faced the nightmare prospect of her having to stay in Cyprus for up to nine months, until she was strong enough to fly on a normal plane. “I just wanted to get her home,” says Bethany. “I was so scared for Molly because she was so premature and we were in another country.”

Molly was eight days old before Jan was able to return and see her.

He recalls: “It was so hard seeing her so small and vulnerable and feeling so helpless.”

The family set up a GoFundMe page to raise £30,000 of the £46,500 needed for Molly’s special flight home. The Lucy Air Ambulance for Children charity donated £7,000 and loaned Bethany and Jan the rest. On July 19, Molly and her mum finally flew back to the UK.

Bethany says: “When I saw the paramedics coming to get Molly, I knew everything would be OK. My husband and mum were waiting as we arrived at the airport. It was so emotional.

“My birthday was the next day – being back with Molly was the best present I could have asked for.” Molly was taken straight from Exeter airport to Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, where she spent three weeks before being moved to Bristol then to a unit in Exeter.

Eventually, following three weeks in hospital in Cyprus and 11 in the UK, Molly went home on October 8 – four days after her booked caesarean date.

Jan says: “It was terrifying finally bringing Molly home because she was so premature, but she has been an absolute angel. For someone so small to fight so hard is remarkable.” Bethany agrees, and says: “We watched Molly go from strength to strength.

“I was so happy she was finally coming home but also anxious because I didn’t know how she would cope but she’s been an absolute dream.

“The day after she arrived was our first day all together as a family at home and it was everything I could have wanted and more.” While doctors say Molly has a weaker immune system and lungs than a full-term baby, as well as some brain damage, she is continuing to progress.

He mum says: “What we went through was the hardest time of our lives.

“But now, you look at Molly and she looks like a normal baby that was born three weeks ago. You would have no idea what she has been through.”

Jan and Bethany are relishing their time together with their girls.

Bethany says: “I’m really looking forward to Christmas with Jan and the girls and to making it all about family.

“I can’t wait to just stay in our pyjamas, eat and cuddle on the sofa watching movies. When you have gone through something like we did, it makes you appreciate everything you have.”

Air Ambulance for Children flies babies and critically ill children to hospital for specialist care.

It is the only UK charity with its own intensive care flight-ready incubator for babies who need to be moved to neonatal intensive care units far away.

There is no NHS budget available for transfers between hospitals but in overseas cases like Molly’s, the charity charters Capital Air Ambulance.

Boss Charlotte Young says: “When Lucy Air Ambulance for Children first heard about baby Molly and the distressing situation her family were in in Cyprus, we knew we had to do everything we could.”

Bethany and Jan are holding a charity auction night in Crediton, Devon, on November 19 to raise funds for Lucy’s Air Ambulance for Children.

Bethany says: “They are incredible. We owe them so much for everything they have done.”