How 1lb 7oz ‘bubble wrap baby’ won her fight for life to become a TV star

A newborn dubbed 'bubble wrap baby' because she weighed just 1lb 7oz when she was born has defied all odds to become a TV star at the age of 13.

Chloe Lea was born at 28 weeks at Queen's Park Hospital in Blackburn.

Because she was so small, she had to be covered in bubble wrap in a hospital incubator and had to be revived numerous times in the three months she remained there.

Chloe's grandfather, Tony Lea, anxiously watched his granddaughter fighting for life.

He said: "The size of her hand would have fitted on my thumb. But I knew she'd fight and win, because she kept kicking the bubble wrap off."

Now, Chloe is a healthy, outgoing 13-year-old and has managed to pick up a BAFTA and a Royal Television Society award for her performance in the lead role of CBBC's adaptation of Dame Jacqueline Wilson's novel, 'Katy'.

The character of Katy is a daredevil tomboy whose life changes forever when she has a fall which leaves her unable to walk. She has to dig deep to come to terms with disability.

The irony of landing the role is not lost on Chloe.

"I think Katy's strength, and willingness to wake up and think 'I need to fight for this' was quite inspiring. Apparently I was quite a fighter too – not that I remember, " said Chloe.

Her success, coming after her precarious start to life, is all the sweeter.

Tony, 56, a retired GMP detective inspector, said: "At the time, Hope, Chloe's mum, was taken ill at work. She was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia.

"A specialist said 'we either deliver the baby early, at 28 weeks, or there's a likelihood your daughter might die because her organs will fail.'

"There were no options really. Salford's Hope Hospital did not have an incubator available. The nearest was Queen's Park Hospital in Blackburn.

"My wife, Lynn and I followed the ambulance. All the way up the motorway we were wondering 'will the baby survive, will Hope be okay?'

"Hope was whisked in for a caesarean section but it was a few hours before we could see either of them. Initially Chloe weighed 650g – which is about 1lb 7oz.

"But, like all babies her weight dropped after birth, to 585g. She was really small. We did eventually take a photograph and her entire body would have fitted on my hand, she was minute.

"The alarms kept going off on her monitor, meaning that she had stopped breathing. The nurses were brilliant, and showed us what to do as it was happening so often. You had to wake her up, touch her, or flick her feet, and it would jog her memory to breathe.

"Her lungs were not developed, so they wouldn't work properly. After three months she was allowed out of Hope Hospital, where she had been moved to, and allowed home with oxygen.

"We expected problems because Chloe's mum was born at 28 weeks too and she has a hearing loss and other difficulties as a result. But Chloe never did. It was as if she refused to have anything wrong with her.

"She is a normal 13-year-old and has always had this zest for life. We have three girls and they always wanted to do well at school – Chloe wanted to do everything and more.

"The way she pushed the bubble wrap back amazed me. How she had the strength to do it, I don't know. When they first fed her, they did so with a tube, and they gave her one millilitre of Hope's milk in a syringe."

During her first weeks, Chloe's family realised how blessed they were to see her pull through.

"There were six beds in the special care baby unit at Balckburn and during the time that Chloe was there four boys died", Tony said.

"The head nurse explained that there are a lot more deaths of boys.

"It was awful watching the parents. We were in there every day and you get to know people and talk to them – then their boy was gone. We are truly blessed."

Chloe, from Clifton, Swinton, a pupil at St Ambrose Barlow RC High School, said: "I have always thought it's a massive world and I want to make a difference. I have strived to get a platform to help people who are struggling, or who are not as well off as I am."

While preparing for the part of Katy she made sure she understood what it was like to use a wheelchair – learning from an actress who uses one because of her disability and from a Paralympian basketball player.

When she accepted the Royal Television Society award she told the audience at the ceremony: "I would like to say there are many courageous, brave, inspiring people with disabilities that inspired me."

Chloe said: "I worked with the actress, Ruth Madeley, on set, who uses a wheelchair and she taught me the perseverance you need to deal with being disabled. It must be so difficult having your legs taken away from you and it was hard getting that emotion across as the character Katy.

"I tried to spread the message that people are not alone, no matter how they are struggling. I became a lot more grateful than I was for what I have. Mobility is something you take for granted."

Katy was screened last year and before that Chloe landed a breakthrough part in the Manchester-based police drama, Scott and Bailey, starring Lesley Sharp and Suranne Jones.

"I played the part of a little girl whose dad had killed her mum, but he was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It was quite an intense part, but I learned what it was like to be on set with other actors."

Those who inspire her include Leonardo Di Caprio – "I just love the way he acts. He gets into every part, so it is believable" – and actor and musician Zendaya Maree Stoermer Coleman, who she says is "a massive inspiration to me, a singer, dancer, actress all in one, everything I aspire to be".

"I want to be an actor, in movies, and TV. First I may go to Pendleton College in Salford to do drama, and perhaps later the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. But it still has not sunk in that I have won a BAFTA. The moment they called out my name it was crazy, and overwhelming. I didn't think I was going to win it.

"I enjoy acting, it is my passion, and I also like music, I am self taught in bass and keyboard. I would like a career as a musician too."

Thanks to the care of the NHS and support from her family, Chloe is setting her sights on getting an Oscar in the future.

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