Beaming Bonnie Windels, born weighing less than a tub of Quality Street, is in the pink and set for the sweetest of Christmases.
The little cutie is one today – a miracle in itself after she arrived in the world tipping the scales at just 585g – 1lb 5oz.
Parents Leah and Siegfried were braced for the worst when Bonnie was born at 23 weeks.
Leah 34, says: “I honestly didn’t know if we’d see this day. When I went into labour the doctors talked to me about my next pregnancy. It was clear they had no hope.
“But here she is now, sitting up, babbling and laughing, with no idea how close we came to losing her.”
Former social media manager Leah was determined to keep her baby inside for as long as possible after feeling her membranes bulging at home.
Admitted to hospital, she dropped the head of her hospital bed down the moment medics were out of the room to use gravity to keep Bonnie in.
She lay reclined in what is known as the Trendelenburg position.
Leah, from Portslade, Brighton, says: “I wasn’t having contractions or pain, but I could feel pressure down there and sensed whatever had gone wrong with my pregnancy, it was purely mechanical.”
Against doctor’s advice, and at the risk of developing blood clots, Leah spent a week on bed rest to give her little girl a fighting chance of survival at birth.
In the UK, the age of viability is 24 weeks – the same as the abortion limit.
Before then, doctors are not legally obliged to help premature babies as the damage to their little bodies is said to be too great, with chances of survival slim.
The chance of a 24-week-old baby surviving outside the womb without brain damage, physical or developmental problems is just 10 per cent.
But Leah was determined to protect her baby, who had been perfectly healthy at a scan two weeks earlier.
And at 5pm each day, she and Siegfried high-fived to celebrate another 24 hours that she had staved off labour.
Leah was given steroids to help the baby’s lungs and magnesium sulphate to protect her brain.
Bonnie was delivered a week after Leah was admitted to hospital – just two days before viability.
Her eyes were still fused shut and her delicate, paper-thin skin was translucent.
Leah recalls: “She breathed on her own for two minutes before stopping, so the team took her across the room to resuscitate her.
"But first they had to wait to see if she’d survive a further minute on her own.
“It was the longest, most agonising 60 seconds of my life.
"We’d agreed with doctors we wanted them to help her if they could, but accepted if she was suffering we’d give comfort care and simply hold her until nature took its course.”
Swaddled in a plastic bag and bubble wrap to keep her warm, tiny Bonnie fought through the next few days.
On Christmas Day, the NICU staff made ink footprints of her feet and presented Leah and Siegfried, 33, with a Reindeer Christmas card.
It struck a chord with Leah, who adds: “We’d seen how tiny Bonnie was, like a tiny little bird in her incubator, but seeing that card really drove home what a miracle it was that she was still alive.”
The couple spent Christmas watching over Bonnie in the NICU at the Royal Sussex Hospital, Brighton, while relatives looked after their son Teddy, then 18 months old.
Bonnie was too fragile to hold but Leah found joy in giving her drops of water on the end of a cotton bud and applying gentle pressure on her head and tummy to simulate the feeling of being in the womb.
It is known as “containment holding.”
But there were still concerns. Bonnie developed retinopathy and had surgery at eight weeks to save her sight.
She also had chronic lung disease due to prolonged oxygen support and needed blood transfusions after developing an infection.
Her oxygen also dipped to just six percent at times, leaving her floppy, blue and moments from death. Leah and Siegfried were told several times to prepare for the worst.
But Leah says: “Every time things got hairy, Bonnie pulled through.
"From the start, she fought the nurses whenever they adjusted her oxygen mask, batting them away with her little arms, and many of them remarked what a little fighter she was.”
It was a month before mum and baby had their first cuddle.
Bonnie was finally discharged a week before her original due date of April 28. Fast forward eight months and she is now a happy and entirely healthy 15lb.
Leah says: “Last Christmas we were scouring the news for articles about ‘preemies’ who had made it against the odds and hoping against hope that we would be one of the lucky ones.
“I hope mums and dads will find Bonnie inspiring and keep faith in the medical staff and their preemies’ will to fight, even on the toughest days.”
Siegfried echoes Leah’s sentiments – while recalling the nightmare first days of Bonnie’s life.
He says: “It was a dark time. We could only sit, watch and hope she would pull through.
“I felt powerless but, above all, I wanted to be there for her so she could feel her daddy’s presence and know she was loved.
“The worst part was the unknown. Would she live or die, what kind of quality of life would she have?
"Trying to maintain a normal life for our son and work was close to impossible, but you can’t just crack when you’re a dad.
“When I first saw Bonnie, I could barely comprehend how small she was and wanted to give her everything in life.
"We’ll spend Christmas Day with aunties and grandparents who plan a day of spoiling her with gifts, kisses and pinching those cheeks!”
Leah is raising money to provide vital equipment for the Trevor Mann Baby Unit which helped save Bonnie.
She says: “I want to do my bit to help the Bonnies of 2020 survive.”
Siegfried, meanwhile, is relishing Christmas dinner , and jokes: “We plan plenty of treats but I’m still a Belgian – so she won’t get out of eating her Brussels sprouts that easily!”