My son Finley had a tough start to life which began when he was born seven weeks early. I have an abnormality with my uterus which increases the chance of preterm labour so I had more regular scans to keep an eye on how Finley was progressing. At my 33 week scan everything seemed perfect but just four days later I started to feel like I was having contractions. We went back to the hospital and at first the nurses thought it was Braxton Hicks, but a short time later I went into labour.
Finley was born the next day weighing 4lb 5oz and he was quickly taken to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) where he stayed for the next 15 days while he was closely monitored and built up his strength. I wasn’t able to stay with him while he was on the nicu and had to travel home for a few hours each night, leaving him on his own before I could return to him again in the early hours the next morning. That was extremely difficult but after those two weeks we were able to finally bring him home and begin our lives as our new family. Unfortunately, that only lasted 19 days before Finley became ill again with cold like symptoms. When he didn’t seem like he was breathing right I became really concerned and took him to an out of hours doctor. After some quick checks the doctor knew something was seriously wrong and told us to take him straight to A&E.
Once we got there Finley’s health deteriorated very quickly. With his oxygen levels dropping he was struggling to breathe on his own, so while the emergency doctors began running tests to try and find the cause of his ill health, he was placed on a breathing machine. Finley’s temperature had also dropped to 33 degrees and he was continuing to get worse. He was diagnosed with bronchiolitis and sepsis and in the early hours of the following morning he also suffered a collapsed lung. Finley needed to be intubated and his breathing was completely taken over by the machine. My partner Cameron and I were sleeping on the chairs next to his bedside and it was incredibly difficult to watch our baby go through all of this, especially considering his shaky start. Just hours later though we got worst news we have ever received. Finley’s body was struggling under all the stress of his illnesses and at five weeks old he went into cardiac arrest. No parent can be prepared to hear those words or that we better go and see him as they didn’t know if he was going to pull through. After 11 minutes of chest compressions the incredible doctors managed to bring him back and get him stable for a transfer from Chesterfield Hospital to Sheffield Children’s Hospital.
We were put in contact with EMBRACE, the specialised ambulance service that transports critically ill infants and children to the main children’s hospitals in Yorkshire, which took me and Finley over to Sheffield. I remember being absolutely terrified during that trip not only because of what Finley had just been through and how close we came to losing him, but now we were going to be even further away from home. We live 45 minutes away from Sheffield and I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving him, especially if we couldn’t get back to his side should the worst happen again. However, as Finley was admitted to the intensive care unit we were approached by a lady from The Sick Children’s Trust. She told us all about their ‘Home from Home’ and said we had a room where we could stay just minutes away from Finley’s side at Magnolia House.
I can’t tell you the absolute relief I felt in that moment. Finley had already been through so much and we had no idea how long he would be in hospital. It was heart-breaking to think of leaving him and there was just no way we could have done it. Thanks to Magnolia House we never had to. When you’ve got such a poorly child in hospital all you want is to be by their side throughout it all. Because of The Sick Children’s Trust we were just a short walk from his bedside and could get back with him at a moments notice. That was so important as I could still express milk for him whenever he needed it, help care for my baby and continue to build our strong bond rather than spending long trips in the car or paying a fortune for a hotel. I don’t know how we would have coped without The Sick Children’s Trust and we cannot thank the wonderful staff at Magnolia House enough for their support.
Finley continued to be intubated and spent a week at Sheffield Children’s Hospital while his body recovered and they lowered his dependency on the oxygen machines. Throughout that whole time we stayed at Magnolia House which gave us a safe place to sleep, make meals and generally look after ourselves. Being at the hospital 24/7 has a serious effect on your mental health but the ‘Home from Home’ gave us a place to rest while being safe in the knowledge that Finley wasn’t far away. It made sure we could look after ourselves so we could look after Finley.
We’ve been back in hospital twice since with Finley’s temperature dropping very low again but this was managed at Chesterfield Hospital with no real issue. He’s been absolutely thriving getting on to regular feeds and acting as you’d expect any four month old to be acting. We are finally feeling like we are starting our journey as a family all thanks to the amazing support we received from the staff at Chesterfield and Sheffield Hospitals and The Sick Children’s Trust.
Jess Bray, Finley’s mum.