HE was the first baby to undergo a lifesaving blood transfusion at Glasgow’s former foetal unit while he was still in the womb.

Now 15-year-old Rhys Hartley, from Uddingston in Lanarkshire, is set to represent Scotland in the World Karate Championships for the first time after being selected for the junior team who will compete in Chile later this year.

The teenager first appeared in the Herald as an infant in February 2004 at a time when medics were raising concerns about proposals to close the Queen Mother’s Hospital in Glasgow, which finally closed its doors in 2010.

Rhys had been the first unborn baby treated with an in-utero blood transfusion in the hospital’s specialist foetal medicine unit, which opened in July 2003.

He was suffering from Rhesus Disease, a rare and potentially fatal complication caused where the antibodies in a pregnant woman’s blood destroy her developing baby’s blood cells

The condition can come about when the mother is of the rare blood type rhesus positive, but the father is rhesus negative. This was the case for Rhys’ parents, Donna and Charles.

As a result, Rhys was under attack in the womb as Donna’s immune system launched an antibody response to kill off her growing baby’s red blood cells - which it perceived as being a threat - and put him at risk of anaemia and heart failure.

In the weeks before he was born in August 2003, Rhys underwent three blood transfusions in the womb where fresh blood was pumped into him via a vein in the umbilical cord.

His father, Charles, now 59, said: “He had three transfusions before he was born, and another two after he was born when he was put into intensive care. Now here he is at 15 years of age representing his country.”

The Uddingston Grammar pupil also overcame a serious respiratory virus as a toddler.

Aged seven, however, Rhys’ interest in martial arts was sparked by his late uncle, Sam, who put him in touch with former world champion Gerry Fleming, now the head national coach for the Scottish Karate Governing Board (SKGB). Mr Fleming has coached Rhys since he was seven.

Mr Hartley said: “I lost my brother seven years ago to [asbestos-related lung cancer] mesothelioma. He never smoked, never drank in his life, but because of his early working days as a joiner he was exposed to asbestos that he didn’t know about.

“I always say to Rhys, and he’ll say to me, ‘my Uncle Sam would be as proud as anything, wouldn’t he?’ - and I say ‘definitely’.”

Rhys achieved his first black belt aged just 12, and in 2018 he scooped four titles for his age group in the sport after winning the Scottish nationals, Scottish international, Irish international and British four nations tournaments.

He also competed at cadet level in the European championships in Sochi, Russia in 2018 and has recently returned from the European championships in Denmark.

On March 13, however, he received his greatest accolade to date after discovering that he had been selected for the Scotland 16 to 18-year-olds ‘junior’ team heading to the World Championships in Santiago, Chile in October.

There are also hopes of Olympic glory in future too, if the sport succeeds in being added to the line-up for Paris 2024.

However, the family fear that as Rhys’ advances, the costs of sending him to international competitions will become more prohibitive.

Mr Hartley, a distribution trainer, said: “This is all paid for ourselves. There’s no funding available.

“Everything they need they have to subsidise themselves, and we try to fundraise for him.

“We’re trying to raise awareness to see if we can get a sponsor or somebody to help him finance this trip, because it’s £2000 to go to Chile.

“So if there are any businessmen or anything out there who can help him out, because he’s thriving in his sport but it’s just getting to a stage now where financially it’s starting to curb us.

“It adds up and as it goes on, the more and more competitions he should be entering, the less he actually will because it’s becoming financially hard to support him.”

Meanwhile, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde continues to provide the specialist foetal blood transfusion service for patients from across Scotland, as well as referrals from Ireland and Iceland.

Today it is located at the Ian Donald Foetal Medicine Centre, in Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.

The procedure was performed for the first time in the city in 1964, at the Eastern District Hospital in Duke Street, by respected obstetrician Dr Gordon Barr.

It was high-risk, but successful, and so-called ‘Wonder Baby’ Thomas McCaffrey made front page headlines.