I’ve been working as an Assistant House Manager at Crawford House, run by The Sick Children’s Trust, for over two years now. Crawford House is a ‘Home from Home’, supporting parents with seriously ill children undergoing treatment at Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI). It’s a big house with 24 bedrooms, a communal kitchen, living room and playroom. Parents have a space away from the ward when things get too tough and when they need a rest from an exhausting day. Crawford House has been a ‘Home from Home’ to thousands of families. One of which is mine.
Five years ago, my partner Daniel and I found out we were expecting a little boy. We were excited to welcome little Daniel into our world and share everything with him. At 25 weeks pregnant, I went for a routine scan. Everything was fine and Daniel and I carried on with our day. An hour later, everything had changed. I started bleeding. We went home and headed to our local hospital, the Queen Elizabeth in Gateshead where they found out I was 5cm dilated. My baby was coming.
I was rushed to Newcastle’s RVI, the only place that would be able to take care of my tiny baby. As soon as little Daniel was delivered – weighing little more than a bag of sugar at 1lb 10oz – he was rushed to the special care baby unit (SCBU). It took four attempts to ventilate him. But from the beginning Daniel showed he was a little fighter. Despite being the smallest baby on SCBU, he managed to breathe on his own after 24 hours. But Daniel still had many hurdles to overcome. Everything that could go wrong did. For 55 days we watched our son struggle and battle for survival, something no parent should have to go through.
Although Gateshead and Newcastle aren’t miles apart, when your child is so poorly, you don’t want to leave their side. Daniel and I were so worried when we were told we couldn’t stay on the ward. Neither of us drove, and it was a horrible winter so we were worried we wouldn’t be able to reach Daniel’s side by relying on public transport. Thankfully, nurses reassured us that there was somewhere to stay within the hospital grounds, just a few minutes from Daniel’s side.
We were taken to Crawford House. I’d never stepped foot in such a place, we had no idea it existed. It was just a few minutes’ walk away, but we felt every step as we were so worried for Daniel who was undergoing bowel surgery at just four days old. We were brought comfort by knowing that we had a direct telephone line in our room at Crawford House to the ward. Thankfully that first night it didn’t ring so we actually managed to get some sleep. Just a few days later, however, we received an emergency call late in the night. Daniel was being rushed into theatre. Because we were just across from the hospital, we were there in an instant and could be there when he got out. Had we not been at Crawford House, late at night we would’ve struggled to be with our son and it would’ve felt like the world was crumbling around us.
While the closeness of Crawford House is great, it’s invaluable for its emotional support. I know from my own experience and because of the families I meet now on a daily basis. To talk about what you’re going through with other families with children in hospital really goes such a long way to help you cope with all the emotions you’re feeling and thoughts going through your head. We’d even share a takeaway or go to the supermarket together. Crawford House is so much more than a house. It really is a home. I see it every day when parents return from the ward and are greeted by their other children and can sit down in the dining room for a meal together. Despite what they’re going through, they have smiles on their faces because they’re not alone. No one is ever alone in Crawford House.
We were with Daniel every step of the way, and although it was hard watching him recover from major operations (including one on his heart) and procedures like laser eye surgery, he knew we were always with him.
Five years later, Daniel has never been back in hospital. You’d never believe that our son was once smaller than his dad’s hand. He’s a bright, happy little boy who loves reading and doing maths at school.
My experience inspired me to apply for the role at Crawford House because of how much it helped my family. Every day I walk into Crawford House, I remember how much The Sick Children’s Trust helped me when Daniel was born so early and was in serious danger. The smell of Crawford House and walking into the rooms we stayed in brings the memories back. Sometimes it’s hard, but then I share my experience with families who are living what was our reality now and I think it gives them hope. I really believe it shows them that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Emily Elliott, Daniel’s mum