Our hospital experience would’ve felt so different without Eckersley House

Imogen's family have been supported by Eckersley House twice. Here, her mum shares their experience

My family have been supported twice at Eckersley House and unless you’ve ever been in the situation when your child is seriously ill in hospital, you’ll never know the weight that is lifted by being given free accommodation.

Our little girl, Imogen, was born in 2014 at Chesterfield Royal Hospital. She’s my second child and the birth happened quickly. Very quickly in fact – I gave birth to her on the floor of the birthing room. Everything felt up in the air as the midwives handed me my beautiful baby girl, but they couldn’t hide their shock as they gasped at her hand. Imogen’s right hand was totally webbed and was considerably smaller than her left hand.

The doctors didn’t know what had caused this to happen and did a number of examinations but were none the wiser. We were referred to Sheffield Children’s Hospital where we were told that Imogen had a condition known as Poland Syndrome. It’s a very rare condition, effecting very few children and is characterised by the webbing of the fingers and underdevelopment of chest muscle. For Imogen it affects the right side of her upper body, alongside her hand Imogen’s arm was much thinner than the left and her pectoral muscle was missing too. I had spoken to a midwife, a lovely lady whose daughter had been born with a birth defect similar to Imogen. She told me about a specialist hand doctor in Leeds, Mr Simon Kay, who she encouraged me to speak to. We made our way to Leeds and straight away Mr Kay made me feel totally at ease. He was the first medical person to really ask me how I was doing and coping which was just so kind. As he examined Imogen, he took great care to make her feel comforted and I knew from then that he was the man to treat my daughter.

I didn’t know it at the time, but across the street from where Imogen’s examination was taking place was Eckersley House, the place which would become our ‘Home from Home’ when Imogen eventually underwent major surgery.

I can’t remember how long we had to wait for the operation, but I do remember travelling down the night before and having to say goodbye to my husband Dale as he left us at the hospital to go try and get some sleep in a hotel which was on the other side of town. Not only was I worried and anxious about my daughter undergoing surgery the following day, but I was worried about Dale as we were in a big city, far away from home and he was all alone.

“You don’t realise what it’s like to have a child in hospital, and all the difficulties that come with it until it happens.”

The following day, we kissed Imogen goodbye as she was taken to theatre and were told about Eckersley House. We called them, explained our situation and we were invited across. Eckersley House was just a stone’s throw away from the hospital. We went in and met Jane McHale, the House Manager. They were in the midst of a Pyjama Party fundraising for the house and Jane offered us a cuppa and a cake, but most importantly a room. I was so relieved, it was such a weight off our shoulders. I didn’t have to worry anymore.

Imogen was in theatre for six hours. We quickly went and grabbed Dale’s stuff from the hotel – I had no idea just how far he’d had to walk the night before – and went back to Eckersley House. We were able to shower, make ourselves something to eat and drink and just relax as much as possible from hospital life while we waited for a call to say Imogen was out of theatre.

It’s very draining when you have a poorly child in hospital, but having a place like Eckersley House makes it so much easier. We stayed there for the whole week Imogen was in hospital, taking it in turns to stay by Imogen’s side and sleep at the house. I felt so safe walking back at night, it really wasn’t far at all.

Since that first stay, we have been a second time when Imogen needed further surgery – and again it just made all the difference. The hospital is so busy and noisy, Eckersley House is the opposite. And being able to go over, sit on a sofa with a cuppa and a slice of toast makes you feel at home.

You don’t realise what it’s like to have a child in hospital, and all the difficulties that come with it until it happens. You don’t realise the strain and stresses it puts on you. If it wasn’t for Eckersley House, we would’ve had to spend at least £500 on hotels, and we wouldn’t have been able to bring our son, Jacob, over to Leeds at all.

Imogen is doing really well now and just started school this year. She has even done a little talk to all the other children about how everyone is different and how she’s a big brave girl having had two operations. She’s amazing.

We’re now planning how we can fundraise for Eckersley House. We’re hoping to do a local bag pack and my mum wants to do a zip wire for The Sick Children’s Trust. We just want to say thank you, in whatever way we can, for helping our family.

Zoe, Dale, Jacob and Imogen Jackson.

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