My wife Sue and I were delighted when our youngest granddaughter, Bridget, was born in 2017. At the time we were in the midst of training for the Land’s End to John O’Groats cycle challenge to raise money for Versus Arthritis, as I have extensive arthritis.
After being born perfectly healthy, suddenly at just eight weeks old we found out that Bridget had complications with her heart. Bridget’s mum (my daughter) Louise and her husband Sam lived in Whitby at the time along with their eldest daughter, Caitlin. They were already out on a limb as families on both sides hail from Sussex, so there was no one up there to support them when this news came suddenly and Bridget was transferred quickly a further two hours away to Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital. Thankfully, local people helped with Caitlin while Sue and I made the six hour drive to Whitby to look after Caitlin while Louise and Sam found out more about Bridget’s condition.
At this stage we didn’t know what exactly was wrong with Bridget’s heart and how long she would be in hospital, but we knew it was serious. A slight relief we had as Louise’s parents was finding out that a charity had given her and Sam a place to stay. The Sick Children’s Trust gave them keys to a room in its ‘Home from Home’ Scott House which was just a short walk away from Bridget. It meant they didn’t have to drive back home, leave Bridget’s side or each other.
Bridget underwent two heart surgeries that year, and on both occasions Scott House was there, giving them a warm and comfortable place to stay. It made the world of difference to Sue and I knowing that they were up there in Newcastle and local. It’s 70 miles in each direction and we would’ve been doubly concerned if they’d been travelling to the hospital and back every day and night. Scott House meant they could be there 24/7 which meant a great deal us as a whole family.
While we looked after Caitlin we tried to keep a normal routine which meant after we took her to nursery, we could go straight to Newcastle to see Louise and Sam, and of course Bridget. It was really nice to be able to do that, and we would often use the communal areas at Scott House to sit and chat or have a hot drink. When Bridget was more mobile, Caitlin would visit and have sleep overs. We could bring Bridget over to Scott House as there was much more space for her to play and use the toys rather than being in the hospital wards. It was more homely, Louise and Sam could feed her and they could be as they would be at home. It provided us a lot of comfort to see the ‘Home from Home’ and know they were in a place of a high standard with not just a bed and sink, but a kitchen and facilities where they could look after themselves. Knowing they could say goodnight to Bridget and go to a place and be properly comfortable rather than live on a pull-out camp bed gave us reassurance. What made it very special, certainly for Caitlin, was that the night before Bridget came home she went to sleep over with her parents and then as a whole family got to go home together.
As grandparents and parents we tried to do as much we could (and can) to support Sam and Louise, but equally try and give something back. It was so important to them to have a place to stay, it was so important to us and we want to be able to provide that support to others, and God forbid if Louise needs the charity’s help again. Our big cycle ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats ended up raising around £3,000 which was split between the charities.
Since then, we have done bits and bobs together as a family to support the charity and normally it involves us pedalling somewhere! We were due to do RideLondon-Surrey earlier this year but even though it was cancelled, Sue and I did our own 100 mile ride which raised £350.
As a Granny and Grandad we know just how having a child in hospital affects the whole family and want to make sure that for other parents and grandparents that the time is as easy as possible.
Having supported countless families with children needing transplants over the past four decades, we remain determined to ensure that the subject of child organ donation continues to be discussed. In support of NHS's Organ Donation Week 2023, a trio of families have kindly shared their transplant stories.
As part of NHS Organ Donation Week 2023, we spoke with mum of eight Emma Austin from Shrewsbury, who we supported at our Scott House 'Home from Home' while her 13-year-old daughter Olivia underwent a heart transplant at Newcastle's Freeman Hospital. Emma describes the donor heart as “an incredible gift” that has provided Olivia with the chance of a normal life after a decade of struggle.
Organ Donation Week 2023: Following his daughter Beatrix's long awaited heart transplant in June, dad Terry Archbold brings us up to speed on her journey and his ongoing desire to raise awareness about child organ donation.
Every year we help families by giving them somewhere to stay near their seriously ill child’s hospital bedside. Sign up to receive our email newsletters to stay up to date with how your support is helping to keep families together.