My partner, Sarah, went into spontaneous labour in August 2021 and before we knew it, we had travelled to The Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) in Newcastle and our daughter was born 12 weeks premature. Evelyn was born naturally and very quickly weighing a small 2lbs 10oz. We were able to spend some precious moments with our daughter before the doctors came and rushed Evelyn off to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for monitoring. Sarah and I didn’t get to hold our new-born daughter properly until she was four days old, which was incredibly tough for both of us.
As doctors assessed Evelyn it was clear she was having difficulties with her breathing which required her to be ventilated for two days. For the rest of the three weeks that she spent on the NICU she had support from a CPAP breathing machine and then high and low flow oxygen support. It wasn’t until she was six weeks old that she was able to breathe for herself again. During this time Evelyn also needed treatment for several other health conditions including antibiotics to clear up a suspected infection and caffeine to help her brain development. She also suffered a grade two bleed on her brain but this was just closely monitored and healed with no complications. This was a lot for us to process. Not only had our daughter arrived a lot sooner than planned, she was also facing all these medical conditions. Unfortunately, there were still more to come. Evelyn was also diagnosed with holes in her heart but thankfully they have been getting smaller as she continues to grow. Evelyn also needs medication for haemangioma, a collection of small blood vessels that formed a lump behind her eye.
The three weeks that Evelyn was at the RVI were made even more stressful because she was being treated 45 minutes away from our home in County Durham. The hospital told us about The Sick Children’s Trust and its ‘Home from Home’ Crawford House, which supports families while their children are seriously ill at the RVI and that they might be able to help us. We were already aware of The Sick Children’s Trust as they supported our friends while their son Theo was in hospital, so we knew how much their support benefits families. Luckily, after the hospital staff contacted Crawford House we were given a room. It was an absolute lifesaver. The ‘Home from Home’ made sure that Sarah and I could always be by Evelyn’s side throughout her treatment, which also removed the long drive to and from the hospital. It was always going to be tough leaving her on the ward in the evenings, but being able to stay a Crawford House, which is located just minutes away on the hospital site, made everything so much less traumatic.
Watching other new parents leave the hospital with their babies at a time when we were unable to do so was very difficult. In fact, it was arguably the toughest part of Evelyn being born so premature. Not knowing what was going to happen next or how well Evelyn would recover from her conditions caused a lot of anxiety for both of us. It was hard not to compare how Evelyn was doing to some of the other children on the NICU, but we knew we just needed to take one day at time and hope that she would get better soon. The support we received from the councillor at the RVI made a big difference to us both, while the sanctuary of Crawford House took away some of the extra emotional tolls we would have suffered.
After spending three weeks at the RVI, Evelyn was transferred to the special baby care unit (SCBU) at the University of Durham Hospital for seven weeks and then we were able to bring her home. She was tube-fed throughout her time in hospital and right up until she was ten weeks old. She has continued taking medication for her haemangioma, but is due to stop soon. We don’t know what triggered Sarah’s spontaneous labour and we might never find out, but the important thing is that Evelyn is doing so much better now. While her time in hospital was one of the worse experiences of our lives, it was amazing to watch her grow and get stronger every day. She is now a sassy little 14-month-old, the happiest and funniest little girl. She still has regular follow-up appointments at the hospital, but she is doing great and reaching all her milestones.
To raise funds in support the charity’s ‘Homes from Home’, I completed the Great North Run and a second challenge, running the 30 miles from our home in in Bridgehill to St Mary’s Lighthouse. Having a child that is seriously ill is stressful enough without the extra worries of being miles away from their side. I wanted to support The Sick Children’s Trust so more families will have the opportunity to be supported by their ‘Homes from Home’, as we were, so they can stay close to their children when they need it most.
Leigh Davison, Evelyn’s dad.