baby

"I thought he was gone": Jimmy Rees on the surgery that left his baby boy on a ventilator.

Popular children’s entertainer Jimmy Rees was about to make the hour-long trip home to Sydney’s Central Coast from Dancing with the Stars rehearsals when he realised he’d missed several calls from his wife.

While the host of the ABC’s Giggle and Hoot who is also known as Jimmy Giggle was training to make the reality TV dancing competition finale, Tori Rees was at a clinic for their twin baby son Mack’s routine tongue-tie surgery.

On the guidance of “three different professional opinions”, the seven-week-old was undergoing the procedure known as a ‘frenectomy‘ to assist with the restriction of a baby’s tongue that can affect feeding and speech.

By the time Jimmy called Tori back, Mack’s condition had deteriorated from mild to critical.

A “main blood vessel” was cut during the routine procedure, and the infant was taken to Gosford hospital where a team of 20 doctors and nurses took the baby straight into an emergency theatre.

Two months on from the nightmarish health scare that prompted Jimmy to withdraw from Dancing with the Stars to be with his family – the couple have two other children, Mack’s twin brother Vinny and older son Lenny – both Jimmy and Tori have spoken to Stellar magazine about the days and weeks during which they thought they might lose their son.

“[What happened to Mack] is something they rarely see – that age and that amount of blood loss. His heart rate had dipped below a threshold so they actually started administering CPR to him,” the 31-year-old father-of-three told the publication.

“[The surgeon] got him in and managed to put the stitch in and stabilise him. [He] had to have a blood transfusion. I was still at home. Tori was thinking the worst. When we debriefed weeks later, we both just burst into tears and said, ‘I thought he was gone.’

“It was a surreal position to be in, just thinking he wasn’t going to come home.”

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The couple who used IVF to conceive their twins after Tori experienced “a couple of miscarriages” following the birth of their first son Lenny said they believe a delayed response from medical professionals led to Mack being in a life-threatening situation.

“There were some errors of judgement and that’s for [the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission] to figure out, and they are,” Jimmy said.

“These things happen but it was the reaction, the handling of it which wasn’t right. We know accidents happen, everyone’s human. It was unfortunate it was Mack. But the events that happened after were not right.”

Hear Jimmy Rees speak about Mack’s health scare in the video below. Post continues after video.

Video by Seven

In April, Melbourne general practitioner, lactation consultant and researcher Dr Lisa Amir, who has performed the tongue-tie procedure thousands of times over the past 30 years, told Mamamia that it is uncommon to have complications with a frenectomy.

“In general, what we do is there’s just a thin membrane under the tongue and it’s interfering with the baby being able to protrude their tongue, and attach to the breast, and it’s just a thin membrane, then we just snip it with a pair of scissors.

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“It’s something personally I’ve been doing it for 30 years, and usually there’s no bleeding or just a couple of drops. Families need to be informed that there’s a possibility of bleeding or infection, but I’ve never seen a problem with infection.”

Dr Amir said she has only ever seen bleeding in a couple of patients, for five to 10 minutes.

“Mostly there’s just a drop of blood. And I’ve never had anyone who needed to be transferred to hospital. We’re just cutting a very thin piece of skin, that membrane, so we’re not going near any blood vessels.”

What happened in the Rees family’s case was that the doctor performing the procedure accidentally cut a major blood vessel, which is a rare occurrence.

There is also debate within the medial community over whether frenectomy procedures are becoming over-used, and in the wrong situations. A study reported in the Medical Journal of Australia (the MJA) found a 420 per cent increase in Medicare funded frenectomies over the past decade.

Tori, 29, said Mack’s recovery during the two months since his surgery has been steady, but despite feeding well, the family still has “a bit of a road to go” to ensure the baby’s speech is not affected in the future.

It’s for this reason Jimmy has no regrets about leaving Dancing with the Stars to be with his family.

“The decision was the correct decision. The little fella needed us and we have two other kids to worry about… In the end, family came first and I’m a family man and a dad.”

You can read the full Stellar interview with Jimmy and Tori Rees here.

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