Byline: As told to Dawn Doherty
Francis Pape wriggles in his mother's arms as she smiles proudly down at him. He gurgles like any happy seven-month-old baby and grins up at his mum Liz McCeary, unaware how lucky he is to be alive. Francis really is a baby in a million - in fact he's one in 310 million, to be precise.
At just three weeks old, Francis underwent heart surgery to save his life. Doctors believe he's the youngest baby in the world to have survived the operation.
"He really is a miracle. He's so happy and cheeky," says his mum Liz. "He's just an absolute joy and my other children Bethany, eight, and Curtus, two, love him to bits."
It could have been so different. Liz, 28, from Middlesbrough, had a routine scan 20 weeks into her pregnancy - and the doctors gave her and partner Brian Pape, a BT engineer, the shattering news.
Their unborn baby had two holes in his heart and his aortic artery was too narrow at the bottom. It was a life-threatening condition which would require surgery within days of his birth.
"I was shocked and upset," says Liz. "But somehow, Brian and I both sensed he would be OK. I never thought he would die and that stopped me worrying throughout the pregnancy."
Francis was born on November 11th last year, weighing 9lb 6oz. "We knew Francis could come out blue and need to be taken from us straight away," recalls Liz.
"But when he arrived he was the most gorgeous, perfect, pink little baby. Brian cut the cord and we cuddled him. He was baptised straight away because we knew he was having such a serious operation. The priest came into the room and we had a lovely ceremony."
Francis was examined by a cardiologist and moved to the neo-natal unit. "When we saw him in the incubator Brian and I both broke down and cried," says Liz.
The following morning Francis was transferred to the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle and at four days old, had major surgery to close one of the holes in his heart and have a band put round the other. Surgeons also tried to open up the aortic valve so the blood could flow properly through his heart.
"We were in tears before Francis went into the operating theatre. I told him how much I loved him and promised I'd see him again soon. Then as Brian gave him a kiss, Francis reached out and touched his face. Brian was so choked with emotion he ran from the room," she says.
After five-and-a-half hours, a nurse told them the operation had gone well. "When we saw Francis in intensive care he looked so vulnerable," says Liz. "His chest was still open, and although a cover had been placed over him he had tubes and monitors everywhere."
Over the coming days, doctors were unable to get Francis off the ventilator which was helping him breathe. Tests revealed he had two more holes in his heart and the heart valve still wasn't open enough. …