Mum-of-three Elly was pregnant with her fourth child when she booked a holiday for her family to Cornwall. Elly and her husband Harry wanted to make the most of being a family of five before her son arrived and, as labour had been so straight forward for her previous three pregnancies, she didn’t think going on holiday five weeks before her due date would be a problem. Elly says: “I rather arrogantly assumed the birth of my fourth child would be a complete doddle”.
As the holiday approached, Elly started to get an uneasy feeling that he would arrive early and started panicking about whether they should go away or not. “We were booked into Lizard point, the furthest spot north Cornwall and a good hour away from a hospital. I couldn’t shake this niggling intuition that he was going to arrive early.”
As feared, Elly’s waters broke five weeks early just as they had arrived and their baby boy arrived within 10 mins of being admitted onto the labour ward. Royal Cornwall Hospital didn’t have a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) but Alexander was immediately taken to a care room where consultants and nurses could address his critical state. Alexander’s breathing came crashing down – he was put into an induced coma, ventilated and fully paralysed. He was resuscitated twice the first night he was born.
Elly recalls: “I remember the consultant so clearly that night – he couldn’t look me in the eye. I just remember him saying ‘this boy is seriously sick’. He was on the phone to a top consultant at Bristol who were helping them save our boy. I didn’t know this at the time but the hospital we were at was just a level 1 hospital and he needed to be moved quickly to a level 3 or 4.”
After exhausting all their resources at Royal Cornwall Hospital, Alexander was moved to Plymouth Hospital. The move was risky – any mistakes and it could be fatal. It took three hours to remove all the machinery supporting Alexander to get him on the road ambulance machines.
At Plymouth, Elly and Harry found out Alexander had pneumonia on both lungs and Sepsis throughout his whole body which could potentially lead to tissue damage, brain damage, organ failure and ultimately death.
Ellie says: “I will never forget my first night at the NICU, I watched as my little boy fought hard for his life. The first 36 hours were the hardest, we were told bluntly that he was on everything he could possibly be on and was nothing more that could be done for him. We felt totally helpless.”
After a week of uncertainty, Alexander finally showed signs of progress. At two weeks old, Alexander came off the life support and his doctors suggested that a transfer to St George’s Hospital in London could be possible – just a few miles away from their family home. Elly says: “Alexander had never met his sisters and I hadn’t seen my children in three weeks as they had been at home in London.” The family couldn’t wait to be reunited again.
The hospital desperately needed Alexander’s bed for other critically ill babies as they had very limited spaces, so his transfer needed to happen as soon as possible. Although Alexander had improved, it was too risky to transfer him home in a road ambulance.
Plymouth Hospital contacted Lucy Air Ambulance for Children (Lucy AAC) and they confirmed they could to transfer Alexander by plane to St George’s Hospital in London. Elly says: “We were ecstatic when Lucy AAC agreed to fly us home by plane so that Alexander could continue his care at St Georges and we could go home to our family. I was so emotional after everything we had been through and so worried, but I knew Alexander was in completely safe hands.”
Lucy AAC flew Elly and Alexander back to London where he quickly settled to his new hospital and finally got to meet his very excited sisters.
Ellie says: “Lucy AAC brought our boy safely home to us so we could be together as a family and they also freed up space at Plymouth Hospital so another seriously ill baby could be helped. After Alexander’s transfer, I learnt that Lucy AAC are the only air ambulance in the country that can help very premature babies because they have developed a bespoke incubator that can be flown. Without Lucy Air Ambulance for Children there would be no one to fly these children to where they so desperately need to be.”