A Downley mother who gave birth to her daughter months early after being involved in a car crash and then catching Covid-19 in hospital has spoken out on her agonising ordeal – as the “strongest little girl in the world” reaches her first birthday.

Ashley-Marie Carroll has reflected on the traumatic year her loved ones have suffered and hailed them for being her “rock” throughout the whole nightmare that started late last year and saw them spend Christmas Day 2020 in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

In November 2020, when Ashley was 26 weeks pregnant, she was involved in a crash when a large van pulled out into her lane and was rushed to Stoke Mandeville Hospital – but while there, she caught Covid-19 and had to isolate for 14 days.

But at 28 weeks pregnant – and with a negative Covid test – Ashley described feeling a terrible pain “like a stitch” and she was taken to the labour ward.

The terrified mother-to-be was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia and HELLP syndrome – a pregnancy complication that affects the blood and liver and needs urgent treatment.

Coupled with sky-high blood pressure which “never came down” from the car crash, they were left with no option but to deliver the baby via emergency caesarean section – and Georgie Marie Phyllis Burgess was born on December 19, 2020, at 11.03am.

She was not due until March 13, 2021, and she weighed just 1010g (2lb 4oz) – less than a bag of sugar – and was the smallest baby born in the whole county in December that year.

Tiny Georgie was put on life support and intubated because she could not breathe on her own and when medics tried to take her oxygen tube out the day after she was born, her lungs failed. It took doctors 17 attempts to intubate her again and she was given a 10 per cent survival rate.

She had to be transferred to NICU at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford where she spent three weeks fighting for her life.

And while new parents Ashley and her husband Stephen should have been spending Christmas Day at home awaiting the arrival of their baby girl the next year, they were instead in accommodation provided by the Ronald McDonald House charity – and could not go home because of Covid tier restrictions at the time.

The worried parents were told if they left the area, they would be asked to leave the accommodation because of the strict Covid rules in place.

Ashley said: “We thanked the lord that my husband and I could spend Christmas Day together with Georgie. Due to Covid restrictions we couldn’t be at her incubator side together but they made an exception to the rules on Christmas Day.

“My husband first held Georgie on Christmas Day. Six long, agonising, days after she was born.”

After a “rollercoaster ride” in NICU, Georgie was eventually transferred back to Stoke Mandeville on January 9 this year, with Ashley and Stephen travelling back and forth every day to be with her.

Because her car was a work vehicle and she then went on maternity leave, Ashley had no transport and had to rely on her husband and parents Evonne and Steve Carroll to take her to be by her daughter’s side every day, although Stephen still had to go to work every day.

The agonising situation left Ashley suffering with depression, while also battling post-partum pre-eclampsia, and she blamed herself for the situation.

She said: “Where we couldn’t be in the NICU unit together, my parents would collect me which allowed my husband to spend time with Georgie.

“I would be with her every day. My husband would come in the evenings. Due to Covid we couldn’t visit together at the same time. I was so depressed, alone and hated/blamed myself for what happened. Blaming my body for failing us and our daughter.

“The strength I had to continue to fight after such a rollercoaster. I suffered from postpartum pre-eclampsia and depression to which made things a lot tougher. But the emotional support needed was limited due to Covid.”

Fortunately, Georgie went from strength to strength, moving from an incubator to a cot and then from feeding tubes to bottles.

She was finally allowed to go home with oxygen on March 9, 2021, after 81 days in hospital.

Months on and Georgie is thriving – she celebrated her first birthday on December 19 and now weighs 20lbs, with Ashley calling her the “strongest little girl in the world”.

Ashley has praised her husband, parents and best friends for being her “absolute rock” during the whole ordeal and wanted to share her appreciation for them in the Bucks Free Press.

She said: “Our best friends Donna, Alex, Pete and Corinne, my husband and my parents were an absolute rock to me and gave me the strength to push on which I believed help Georgie so much. I’d also like to thank the team at Stoke Mandeville too, they were amazing.

“I can’t thank these people enough and I wish and pray that you can help me show them the appreciation. Because without these people I would certainly not have had the strength to get through such a traumatic and tough time and neither would Georgie.”