Max & Olli fly home together with Mum by their side

Max & Olli fly home together with Mum by their side

by Sam, Max & Olli’s Mum

I have experienced first-hand why Lucy Air Ambulance for Children is such an important charity. My family needed their help and they came to our rescue.

Our story begins in Seascale in the Lake District. It was finally holiday time and we were due to spend a week with the twins’ older brothers before their arrival.  Prepared for fun on the beach, rambling around the lakes (the boys not me of course being 7 months pregnant!) and lots of quality time together – it was a break we were all really looking forward to away from London.

However it seems the twins had other ideas…

We spent only one day on the beach before I landed in hospital due to early signs of labour And after being monitored for three days with no further progress, I was discharged with advice to rest; only to return less than 12 hours later now in full labour.  Max was born at 9:12pm followed by Olli at 9:17pm on Mon 29th July at West Cumberland University Hospital in Cumbria. They were born at 32 weeks (8 weeks early) over 300 miles from our home in Watford. As stressful as the situation was, both Max & Olli were breathing unaided and had all fingers & toes – that was all that mattered. We were very lucky, extremely happy and proud parents of now four boys!

As both babies were doing well, on Tuesday afternoon they started feeding. Unfortunately after only three hours though, there were early signs that Max wasn’t digesting it as he should therefore on Wednesday morning, following all tests that West Cumberland hospital were able to do, it was decided that he would be better off having more thorough checks at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) – over 100 miles away.

It was an emotional debate and very difficult decision separating the family so early on, however it was agreed that I, Mummy needed to stay and express milk for Olli so after a quick and very tearful goodbye, Daddy whizzed off in the car and Max in the road ambulance to Newcastle.  I was now left alone with Olli, the boys and Granny, full of worry, sadness and anxiety about what the coming days would hold.

Once in Newcastle, further checks were done, fortunately all coming back clear and with Max surprisingly not seeming in any discomfort, he was put on antibiotics and thankfully there were no signs of any long-term issues.

After three long days/nights apart, on Saturday Olli & I were kindly transferred by road ambulance to Newcastle to be reunited as a family. Sadly however, our reunion didn’t last long.

With Max seemingly no longer in a danger zone, the decision was made for Daddy, having taken 2 weeks of unpaid leave already, to return South to work. It was a heart-wrenching decision as it was still not clear when Max would be deemed well enough to make the journey home – or even how we could possibly travel the distance – but financially, we felt we had no choice.

With Daddy gone and with Max improving day by day, the Consultants set about working on this next challenge of when and how we could get home.

So what were our options?

We were 300 miles from home, the twins were now 8 days old and stable but were still being tube-fed, and were still in incubators to regulate their temperature, so they couldn’t travel 4 and a half hours by car.

My local hospital, Watford General, was called and we originally discussed whether they could meet us halfway by road ambulance but did you know that road ambulances can only travel at max 56 miles per hour when it isn’t an emergency? With this in mind, it would take around 6 hours drive time plus extra for handover and stoppage breaks to feed and change nappies. Max & Olli were doing so well but it was agreed that at this stage, in their condition, travelling by road ambulance was too risky.

This meant I would need to stay in Newcastle with the twins for at least another couple of weeks while Daddy was alone at home going to work.  I was gutted.  It was such a special time that he was missing. Max and Olli were hitting incredible milestones; they wore their first clothes (which any preemie parent knows is a huge deal), Olli moved into a cot from an incubator and the first time I held them together ‘Twin time’ was without Daddy. To experience these moments alone was heart wrenching.  I felt so guilty & sad that we were not enjoying moments together – it was really tough.

Our Senior Consultant, Stefan, saw how hard it was for us being separated hundreds of miles from each other and worked tirelessly in the background to get us home. After various phone calls to NHS transport teams, then came a ray of light. What if we could to fly home?

Lucy Air Ambulance for Children offered to fly us home in a plane with space for both boys to travel together with me by their side and qualified nurses trained to do these journeys daily. They are the only charity in the UK that can fly premature babies between hospitals and the only way we were going to be reunited as a family.

Finally there was a plan!  I don’t think that I dared to breathe between that phone call and the day of the flight. I just couldn’t believe it was actually happening and didn’t want to jinx it.  I was elated to finally be going home yet apprehensive about the journey – though I didn’t need to be…

On Monday 12th August, at 2 weeks old, baby Max, baby Olli and Mummy were driven by road ambulance to a private airfield near the main airport in Newcastle. The twins were safely strapped and cocooned in their pods which looked like a 2 man “rocketship” complete with their cool headphone-like ear defenders – they were loaded into their own private plane and we were soon on route to Luton, the nearest airport to Watford. The flight only took one hour.

As nerve-racking as it was flying such tiny babies, I actually thoroughly enjoyed the ride.  The transport nurses who came with us were incredible.  While being friendly, professional and very diligent with all their checks, explaining everything along the way, there was an injection of humour (including critiquing our in-flight picnic – not enough sweet stuff!) which made the whole experience positive and relaxed and making me feel safe and secure in the knowledge that the twins were in good hands.

Flying into the VIP area no less of Luton airport, (How special did we feel!) we were then picked up by another chauffeur – I mean road ambulance – to drive us to Watford.

I don’t think the babies woke up through the whole experience – it was a smooth and uneventful journey for them.

Handover was completed at Watford General when the twins were moved into their new cots and the boys were issued some very special certificates in memory of their “epic” (as their brothers would say!) flight.

We were finally home and we were back together as a family.  I was back in a hospital I knew with the support of all my family. Gareth & I could finally start to adjust to life as parents together and, most importantly, bond with the babies together.

Without Lucy Air Ambulance for Children, our family would have been separated for weeks and potentially months until the babies were strong enough to withstand the road journey. Flying by plane made the journey quick and safe reuniting us as a family, alleviating the emotional and financial strain of being away from home, and allowed us to concentrate on our baby boys’ health.

I’d like to say a big thank you to Lucy Air Ambulance for Children from my whole family. They quickly transformed an incredibly stressful and uncertain situation, into positive life-changing experience.

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