First-time mother Bianca Fowler smiles with her daughter Winona as she progresses after being born prematurely at 29 weeks.

Premature birth forces Lynn couple to spend holidays in the Czech Republic

A set of first-time parents will be forced to spend the holidays in the Czech Republic after their vacation ended with an emergency birth after only 29 weeks gestation.

Lynn native Bianca Vanessa Fowler and her boyfriend, Andrew Mathey, got the OK from her doctor to travel to Paris with Mathey's family in October. A day before they were scheduled to head back to Boston, during their pitstop in the Czech Republic, Fowler said she began having complications and was rushed to the hospital.

The doctors at the General University Hospital in Prague were forced to bring Fowler into emergency surgery, she said. When she woke up, Winona, her 2.3 pound newborn, was in an incubator in another room while Mathey was forced to wait in the lobby.

"It was like I had no emotion because I couldn't do or say anything," said Fowler. "Everyone was looking at me and they didn't know what I was saying. I was happy she was alive but it was really scary because she could fit under my chin she was so small."

Winona's original due date was Jan. 13 but she was born "severely premature" on Oct. 30, the day after Mathey's 32nd birthday, Fowler said. The first-time mother was not allowed to see her daughter until a day after she was born and even then she was unable to hold her.

The hospital kept Winona in the incubator for a month, until the doctors felt she was strong enough to attempt breathing on her own. From the beginning of November all the way through December, her breathing progressed little by little and she finally started to gain weight after being hooked up to a feeding tube, said Fowler.

Even though their newborn was getting healthier, Fowler said she and Mathey had a bigger problem on their hands. The doctors told them Winona was unable to travel until her lungs were at full capacity and she reached a normal weight, which meant the new family was forced to stay in the Czech Republic a lot longer than they expected, she said.

The doctors told them the earliest they can fly back home to Boston is the first week of February, but that's not even a definite, she said. Last week, Winona weighed in at 5.5 pounds, but she still has a long way to go, according to her mother.

"I missed Halloween, that's my favorite holiday, and I missed Thanksgiving dinner with my family," said Fowler. "I missed the Fowler family Christmas party and now I'm going to miss Christmas and New Year's Eve, but I have to handle it. As much as I want to be home, we have a new baby girl and she is breathing and eating and I am so grateful."

Trying to find a place to stay and a job in a country where they do not know the language has been very difficult, she said. Mathey's family has stepped up to help pay for the medical bills, at $16,000 since Fowler's MassHealth insurance does not carry over internationally, but their biggest worry has been paying for their day-to-day necessities.

A close friend of Fowler's used the internet to her advantage and started a GoFundMe page to get the word out. Fowler said she never thought there would be enough donations for their situation, but the outreach of support from her community back home has left her and Mathey feeling hopeful again.

"The page has been a lifesaver," she said. "It's not enough to pay the medical bills, but it is definitely enough to keep us afloat living out here while being able to eat and buy Winona diapers and formula."

The donation page has raised almost half of its $8,000 goal. Fowler said the page is "literally the only thing that is feeding them," and that everyone coming together for them and their little girl means the world.

Until the Prague doctors give the new family the OK to head back home, they will be staying in a newly-found apartment close to the hospital, she said.  

"The biggest thing I have learned throughout all of this is people really do care," said Fowler. "It is really heartwarming to know that when we get back home, me, Winona and Andrew will have people there who care."

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