My son George was born on 26 June 2021 and, for the first five months of his life, was the happiest little boy. He was our first, and both me and Jack, George’s dad, enjoyed the usual ups and downs of being first-time parents.
In mid-November, George picked up what we initially thought was a cold, having a runny nose and snuffles. We were advised to give him Calpol when necessary and generally keep an eye on him. Then, over the space of two days early in December, things took a dramatic turn for the worse. George stopped drinking milk, which was worrying, but then started struggling with his breathing and began sleeping far more than usual. Paramedics came out to see him but after running tests on his heart and checking his oxygen levels, advised us to stay at home.
Less that 24 hours later, George was completely unresponsive. We rushed him to the Accident and Emergency department at the Sheffield Children’s Hospital, where he was immediately taken to the High Dependency Unit (HDU) due to his worryingly low oxygen levels. He was put on high flow oxygen, and they also identified a shadow on his lungs, which they believed to be fluid. It felt like our world was falling apart, and I just didn’t want to leave his side. To see him laid up in hospital, connected by tubes and wires to various machines and showing no signs of the happy baby boy we knew, was completely devastating.
George was diagnosed with Human Metapneumovirus, which is a form of pneumonia. The doctors explained that in normal times it was something that children wouldn’t easily pick up, but because of COVID and how kids were not being exposed as much to viruses like this, the number of cases was far higher than usual. With George being so little, it hit him hard. He was incredibly poorly, and I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving him. I spent the first night at the side of his bed, watching his monitors all through the night. It was utterly exhausting, but I was not going to leave him. I just wanted to be with him as much as I could, but I didn’t know how that was going to be possible.
It was the following morning when The Sick Children’s Trust came to our rescue. The charity provides free of charge ‘Homes from Home’ to families with a seriously child in hospital, and I was so thankful that they offered us a place at Magnolia House. It is onsite at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, ensuring that we could stay as close as possible to George’s bedside whilst also providing a real sanctuary for us, which was much needed.
Magnolia House gave us somewhere we could go for five minutes of peace, getting away from the constant beeping of the machines within the HDU without ever feeling like we were leaving George for too long. Our home in Rotherham is a good 30 minutes away from the Sheffield Children’s Hospital, and I simply wouldn’t have been able to cope with travelling backwards and forwards all the time. Also, with COVID still rife, we wanted to avoid meeting other people to minimise the risk not only to George but everyone, from patients to staff.
As well as keeping us close, Magnolia House gave Jack and I a private space where we could spend time talking, getting our heads around the situation that George was in. As well as giving both of us the chance to come to terms with what was happening, we were also able to grab a shower and have a nap, which was invaluable. By looking after ourselves we would be able to look after George to the best of our ability, and thanks to Magnolia House and their amazing staff, we were able to do exactly that. If I’d had stayed on the ward throughout, I think it would have taken a massive toll on me physically and mentally, if I’m honest.
When George was eventually well enough to move away from HDU to a regular ward to continue his recovery, the charity kindly offered us a place in Treetop House, which is their other ‘Home from Home’ serving the hospital. We gratefully accepted. Having that space allowed us to be together as a family, sharing every day together and be involved in the care of our baby 24/7. It was incredible and I cannot thank The Sick Children’s Trust enough for what they did for us at a really distressing time.
George was finally allowed to come home with us on 16 December, just in time for us to share our first Christmas together. It was the perfect early present for us – we couldn’t have asked for anything better. We had picked up our Christmas tree just before he was admitted to hospital, so when we finally came home, we decided we were going big with it! We got the tree and decorations up as we quickly as we could to give George time to really enjoy himself, even though he was still recovering. The family all wanted Christmas to come early. He was spoiled rotten, but thankfully we still managed to keep some presents back for Father Christmas to deliver on the big day!
While George was poorly, we prepared ourselves for the possibility of spending Christmas at the hospital. We would have made it as nice as we possibly could, but it was lovely to have our first Christmas at home. We took some presents to the nurses on the ward just before Christmas. We donate to the children’s hospital every year to ensure that the kids staying there get presents, but I was determined to make sure that the staff got some too because the work they do is unbelievable.
George returned to the hospital for a check-up in January and they were happy with him, telling us that the shadow on his lung has now gone, thank goodness. It was a huge weight off our minds.
The Sick Children’s Trust is such a simple concept. It provides such a valuable service for parents desperately in need, something that my parents know as well as I do. When I was six years old my two-year-old sister passed away. She spent a lot of time not just in Sheffield Children’s Hospital, but also in hospitals in Newcastle and Leeds, seeing different specialists. I spoke to mum and dad about their experience, and they said that they were supported by similar charities during that time all those years ago. Like us, they know how crucially important it is that places like Magnolia House and Treetop House exist. People don’t realise how important they are until they need them, but we’ll never forget, that’s for sure.
Faith Pearson, George Allen’s mum