On 22 December 2017, my beautiful baby Olivia was born by caesarean at just 36 weeks. I was able to give her a kiss, but that was it as she was rushed away to Freeman Hospital in Newcastle upon Tyne. Devastatingly, I wouldn’t see my baby again until after Boxing Day. But thanks to The Sick Children’s Trust, Olivia’s Dad Connor was able to stay by her side and make sure that she didn’t wake up on her first Christmas Day alone.
I hadn’t felt much movement from Olivia in the weeks leading up to her birth and was referred to Darlington Memorial Hospital for tests. They told me that there could be a problem with her heart. This didn’t come as a huge shock as the possibility had been mentioned before but was never a definite. I needed further tests at the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) in Newcastle, and the results confirmed our worst fears. There was a problem with our baby’s heart and her life was in danger. Olivia had a condition called pulmonary atresia, a type of congenital heart disease which meant that her pulmonary valve hadn’t formed properly.
From that moment on I stayed at RVI because the doctors wanted to monitor me, while Connor and Amelia, our eldest daughter, stayed at home in Bishop Auckland, County Durham. I was due on 18 January 2018, but on 22 December 2017 Olivia arrived and was immediately transferred to Freeman Hospital for specialist treatment. Even though Christmas Day was approaching fast, I couldn’t go with her because I had to recover from the caesarean. Connor stayed with me for a day, and then went to Freeman Hospital so that one of us could be with Olivia while my parents looked after Amelia.
To our amazement, when Connor arrived at Freeman Hospital, he was approached by the House Manager at a place called Scott House, which is a ‘Home from Home’ run by The Sick Children’s Trust to provide accommodation for families with children being treated at Freeman Hospital. They had a room for him, just minutes from Olivia’s bedside.
When Christmas Day came, I was devastated to not be with my family. Although I knew that Olivia was getting better, it didn’t feel right to not be with her. We were spread out across the region. I was still at RVI, Amelia was with her grandparents while Connor and Olivia were at Freeman Hospital. At least Connor and Olivia were together. But let’s just say it wasn’t exactly the Christmas we had been expecting!
On Boxing Day, I was discharged from RVI. My Dad picked me up and we went straight to Freeman Hospital. I cuddled my baby girl for the first time. It felt amazing to be able to hold her and be close to her after being apart for what had felt like such a long time. After lots of kisses and cuddles, Connor took me over to Scott House. My parents and Amelia came along – they wanted to see this amazing ‘Home from Home’ that Connor had been talking about! We were all amazed at how welcoming it was and the facilities it had. There was a kitchen, a place to wash clothes, a living room and even a playroom. When I saw that, I couldn’t believe it. It meant that Amelia could come and visit and my family could be back together again.
We turned Boxing Day into our Christmas Day and had it at Scott House. My Mum brought up a Christmas Dinner which was just what we needed to lift our mood and put smiles on our faces. We were finally all together, and even though Olivia couldn’t come home yet we knew we were just a few minutes from her hospital side. It was so important to us that Amelia didn’t miss out on Christmas Day and opening her presents from Father Christmas. Because of Scott House, she had a magical day.
At six days old, Olivia underwent a procedure to insert balloon catheters into her arteries to widen them and help ease the pressure on her heart. It all went well and afterwards we took Amelia to the hospital to meet her little sister for the first time. Without Scott House this wouldn’t have been possible and it was so important that we had this chance so that Amelia and Olivia could start bonding.
We were at Scott House until 4 January, when we could finally take Olivia home. The Sick Children’s Trust is our hero for keeping our spirits lifted over the festive period. The house staff are a true inspiration and made an awful situation that little bit easier. I want all families to have the chance that we did at Scott House last year – to be together over Christmas, even when their child is in hospital.
Now we’re home, we’ll forever be thankful to the charity. Olivia is doing so well, and just like any other child – you’d never know what she’s been through, or that last year we didn’t even know if we’d be able to have a Christmas Day together. But thanks to The Sick Children’s Trust, we did. We’re hoping for a Christmas at home this year, to make up for last year, but Olivia needs another procedure so that might not be possible. Whatever happens I know that Scott House, and The Sick Children’s Trust, will be there for us.
Stacey Wall, Olivia’s mum