Little Phoebe Finlay wasn’t expected to live.
Even when she did defy the odds to survive being born 15 weeks premature, there were doubts she’d see or walk.
Now – three years on – the girl dubbed a “miracle baby” has beaten blindness and other complications to become a healthy young toddler.
Her former Queenstown parents Ian Finlay and Katrina Withers have this week returned to the resort to relax after a nightmare three years – that’s also involved Katrina’s two cancer battles and losing their house in the devastating Queensland floods.
Their ordeal began in January 2008 when Phoebe was born at 25 weeks.
Soon after the infant’s bombshell blindness prognosis at eight months old, mum Katrina had the first of two cancer scares.
She underwent urgent surgery to remove her right breast, and, later, a lump in her left breast was cut out.
To add to the heartache, construction firm owner Finlay’s had to start business all over again after losing “everything” in the Global Financial Crisis.
And just last month, the Brisbane-based family’s newly-completed home was destroyed in the devastating Queensland floods.
Despite their adversity, the couple remain positive.
“We are blessed,” Finlay, a former Queenstown property developer, says.
“It’s just been a long road. I still say Katrina could’ve been very sick, Phoebe could not have been with us – they’re all serious things but Katrina’s got her sign-off and Phoebe’s fine,” Finlay says.
“And our house will be fixed in a couple of months so we can go back and enjoy it again.”
Phoebe was born in Dunedin at 25 weeks – two weeks older than New Zealand’s youngest-ever birth – because Withers suffered preaclampcia, a disease of the placenta that can even be fatal to expectant mothers.
Initially weighing in at 670 grams, Phoebe endured five major operations to her heart, stomach and bowel – plus 75 blood transfusions – during her first three months. She also developed an infection in her eyes which doctors thought would make her go blind.
But the three-year-old, who has impaired vision, has continued to make steady progress.
“We didn’t know what she was going to be able to do,” Finlay says.
“One of the risks with prematurity is cerebral palsy. She took a long time to walk, but she’s just kept growing as normal.
“We can’t believe that she’s got to this point, and all her doctors are just blown away. She’s just living a beautiful life.”
Another silver lining is the birth of Phoebe’s healthy baby brother Charlie on December 31 last year – although that wasn’t without complications either, with Withers being monitored weekly for preaclampcia again and waiting for the all-clear from her cancer scares.
The engaged-to-be-married couple, who have put their nuptials on hold, eventually plan to buy property again in Queenstown.
“We love being here, it revives us,” Finlay says.
“It’s such a nice little town, it makes us feel good.
“We love that Phoebe’s born here, and we love that she’s a Kiwi.”