HELENE Kydd was 28 weeks pregnant and getting ready for work one morning in 2001 when she realised something was wrong.

Ms Kydd said: "It became clear I was going into labour.

"I immediately took a black cab to university College Hospital at 8.30am.

"As providence would have it my cab driver was married to a midwife.

"He said 'it's all going to be fine darling, I can sort you out'. I must have had somebody looking after me on that day."

Her cabbie even drove her the wrong way up a one way street to get her to the hospital.

But when she did eventually give birth - after five days - her daughter Orla was tiny.

Ms Kydd, of Eliot Place, said: "She was a bag of sugar - just a kilo. She was very fragile and had lots of different issues with her brain, her eyes.

Baby Orla was put on a breathing machine and, due to the treatment she needed, didn't make it out of the hospital until four and a half months later.

Ms Kydd, now 52, said: "Then it's quite difficult. Nobody will tell you what the future holds. You don't know if your baby will be completely healthy or not."

Orla is now an 11-year-old pupil at Newstead Woods School in Orpington and her mum says, despite eyesight problems, she is a "lovely, lively, healthy girl."

The support they had from other parents at the hospital has now led the mum-of-four and husband Tony Bradbury, 54, to set up a website called Prematurejourneys.com that they hope will offer a network for others in the same position.

She said: "The whole experience of being launched into that very technical neonatal unit life made us think about trying to put something back.

"We've worked for a couple of years on this website to help parents contact each other and support each other.

"More and more premature babies are surviving but some have lifelong difficulties. Just having a network of other parents can help.

"You become quite an expert if your child gets problems with their heart or ears or whatever else."

Since launching last year, it has attracted 5,500 visitors already and Ms Kydd thinks it will grow further.

"People are visiting from all over the world.

"We get a lot of people from America and the UK but also from Africa and all over. It's a universal issue."

News Shopper: Orla was in hospital for four and a half months

Tips for friends and family

Ms Kydd said one of the problems she had was her friends not knowing how to react to the news. Her website's tips include:

- Be available. Parents need support and encouragement from you at this difficult time.

- Don’t press to visit the baby. Generally just parents and immediate family are allowed to visit.

- Try not to ask the obvious questions like when is she coming home or how much does he weigh? Let the parents tell you what they want to divulge. 

- Buy gifts thoughtfully. No big baby growers or enormous home-knit cardigans.

- Acknowledge the birth with an appropriate card. Often friends and family are at a loss as to how to deal with the early birth of a baby.