Couple’s joy as they take son home for first Christmas

Eight-month-old Zak Farmer, of Armthorpe, who had to have life-saving surgery to untwist his small intestine - twice.
Eight-month-old Zak Farmer, of Armthorpe, who had to have life-saving surgery to untwist his small intestine - twice.

A young couple from Armthorpe have thanked the doctors who saved their baby’s life after he was born with a twisted intestine.

Ryan Farmer and Rebecca James, both aged 23, have ken their son, Zak, home for the first time since his life-saving operation in October, the second he has had in his short life.

Eight-month-old Zak Farmer, of Armthorpe, with dad Ryan Farmer, who had to have life-saving surgery to untwist his small intestine - twice.

Eight-month-old Zak Farmer, of Armthorpe, with dad Ryan Farmer, who had to have life-saving surgery to untwist his small intestine - twice.

“We would like to thank everybody at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, not only have they saved our sons life, but they have taken fantastic care for him and supported us through the whole situation. We are also grateful for the support we have received from family, it has been truly amazing.

“Now we are looking forward to the New Year, which we hope will be a good year. We’ll have some valuable family time at home, but they’ll be lots of days out,” said Ryan.

The couple were over-joyed when Zak arrived on April 10 2015, but within hours of him being born doctors at Doncaster Royal Infirmary realised something was not quite right.

“We were completely unaware of any problems throughout the pregnancy, but a few hours after birth it became obvious there was something wrong as he was being sick with a green substance,” said Ryan.

Eight-month-old Zak Farmer, of Armthorpe, with mum Rebecca James, who had to have life-saving surgery to untwist his small intestine - twice.

Eight-month-old Zak Farmer, of Armthorpe, with mum Rebecca James, who had to have life-saving surgery to untwist his small intestine - twice.

“Some tests were carried out at DRI and we were told it seemed he had a blockage in his bowel but the cause of this was unknown. We were then told we would have to be transferred to Sheffield Children’s Hospital because he may need surgery and this wasn’t available at DRI.

“When we were transferred to Sheffield further tests were done and we were told that Zak’s small intestine had twisted. This is called bowel malrotation and voluvlus. Alongside that he had a pneumothorax, which is air in the chest cavity which causes the lung to collapse.”

Zak was less than 24-hours-old when he was given an emergency operation to untwist his bowel.

“He was born on Friday at 2.06am and on Saturday at 1.30am he was in theatre at Sheffield. He was in theatre for two to three hours. We felt useless, We’d just been given the greatest gift of all and wanted to do all we could to keep him safe but it was out of our hands, all we could do was wait,” said Ryan.

Thankfully, the surgery went well and after spending four weeks in the hospital’s neonatal surgery unit recovering, his delighted parents were able to take him home. Sadly, their joy was somewhat short-lived as Zak was rushed back in to hospital just a few months later after falling seriously ill on October 21. Further tests at Sheffield Children’s Hospital revealed Zak’s small intestine had re-twisted.

“It is very rare for it to happen again so at first the hospital thought maybe some scar tissue from the previous operation could be the problem. No one thought re-twisting would be the case,” said Ryan.

“Both times we were transferred from Doncaster to Sheffield Rebecca and I were so scared. We didn’t know what was in store for our baby. We just wanted to protect him and hope that he would need no further procedures but unfortunately that is what happened.

“He was again taken down to theatre for surgery where doctors found his small intestine had re-twisted. This time the blood supply had cut off and a lot of it seemed dead, the surgeons untwisted it and put it back into place with the hopes the blood supply would come back and bring the intestine to working order.

“We knew that it’s the small intestine that absorbs nutrients and we didn’t know if he’d been able to live without it.

“Zak was brought onto intensive care unit and was due to go to surgery again on the Saturday, (October 24), but became so ill he had to go on the Friday. We were told he may not make it at all through the surgery, this crushed us inside but we knew his only option was to go to theatre and see what had happened.

“Unfortunately, it was found that 95 per cent of Zak’s small intestine had died. We were given the choice; either to take it out and give him a chance or leave it and let the dead intestine take him. It was never really a question that needed asking, but they have to ask. Obviously we chose to give him the chance and he is now left with just 13cm of unjoined small intestine.”

‘Miracle’ baby Zak is classed as a ‘small gut baby’, meaning he cannot absorb nutrients as his small intestine is so short. He has a Total Parenteral Nutrition, (TPN), line in his chest which runs towards the heart and gives him all the nutrition he needs.

The future still remains uncertain for Zak, who Ryan describes as a ‘true little fighter’, but the family are determined to remain positive.

“The trouble with these lines is are prone to infection which could cause major issues, such as damage to the liver, and possibly even death,” said Ryan.

“As for the future, we just don’t know, Zak is always going to have problems and hospital visits. The TPN will be a permanent thing until another thing comes along that Zak can use to enable him to eat more and then maybe one day he will be able to get off it.

He’s never really going to be completely normal unless a major solution comes along. We have been told his option is a small intestine transplant, but as his liver may get damaged he may also need a new liver too. These transplants are not very often done in the UK and are not as well established compared to other transplants, so it may not work at all. We are currently trying to find out as much information as possible to see if there are other options other than transplant.

“We have a long road ahead but for now Zak is doing really well. He is our little miracle and we are going to do everything and anything we can to get him what he needs.”