My 16 month old son Ralphie had been having some trouble breathing on and off for a few days so we had spent a lot of time in and out of our local hospital in Harlow. The doctors didn’t seem to have any major concerns though so each time we would return home. In January things got worse and Ralphie was admitted to the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow and treated for bronchitis. This was only a short stay and soon we were back at home.
However, a few months later in April he started struggling with his breathing again, but this time it was a lot worse. As I rushed him to back to Harlow’s A&E department he started to be sick and began foaming at the mouth. When we arrived at the hospital he went completely limp and felt like dead weight in my arms. He was taken to the high dependency unit and while doctors worked to help him, Ralphie completely stopped breathing. It was the scariest moment of my life.
Ralphie was put on a ventilator which took over his breathing and as the doctors were trying to stabilise him an ambulance was prepared to take us to Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH). Everything happened so quickly. I didn’t think he was going to make it. The whole trip I was just hoping that he would be ok.
When we arrived at GOSH the team there were amazingly quick at admitting Ralphie to the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) and doing several examinations to determine what the problem was. He was diagnosed with bronchiolitis, a respiratory virus which reduces the amount of oxygen entering the lungs. He also had some fluid that had built up in his lungs and he needed to be kept on the ventilator for five days until the fluid had gone and his breathing became better.
While Ralphie was being treated it dawned on me that I was now in the middle of London with nothing with me and no family who could help. I had no idea long Ralphie was going to be in hospital and I didn’t know where I was going to stay. As the panic started to set in one of the nurses told me about The Sick Children’s Trust and its ‘Home from Home’ Rainbow House that supports families with a place to stay while their child is in hospital. She took me over to the ‘Home from Home’ which was just a short walk from the hospital. It was such a relief to know I didn’t have to worry anymore about how I was going to stay with Ralphie. I’m a single mum so the situation was incredibly difficult and it was made a lot worse because lockdown rules meant that none of my family could travel with me. I felt very alone but the staff at Rainbow House gave me some extra comfort and after a short while Ralphie’s Grandad, Michael, was also able to come down and stay too. Having that support made such a difference and was really reassuring.
Without Rainbow House I would have had to travel to and from Harlow for an hour each way on the train and the one occasion where I did do this it was an absolute nightmare. It made me really appreciate how important the ‘Home from Home’ is to families and the difference it makes. I could just focus on Ralphie and not worry about much else.
After Ralphie came off the ventilator, for a few days he still couldn’t eat or drink properly and it was horrendous to see him struggle. Especially as these were all things that were easy for him before.
We’re now back at home, and have been for three months and Ralphie is doing so much better. I’m quite shocked at how quickly he improved and how he is back as active as before. We have check-up appointments to keep an eye on things but he hasn’t needed any further treatment and he is doing brilliantly. Even though we are now out of the woods, I will never forget that week we spent in GOSH and just how much of a difference it made being able to be close to my child. I will always owe so much to The Sick Children’s Trust for their amazing support.
Charlotte Holding, Ralphie’s mum.