As a family, we love Christmas. Mark and I have two boys who are at an age when it’s the most magical time ever.
Last year, Jayden and Ellis had already written their Christmas lists, hung their stockings out and were ready for Santa to visit the house at the start of December! But just a few days before Christmas our lives were thrown into turmoil. Jayden and Ellis were on their way back home with their beloved Auntie Laura (or Auntie Droopy as they used to call her) after visiting her cousin in King’s Lynn.
Tragically, as Laura pulled out at a junction, a lorry crashed into their car, killing Laura instantly and leaving both our boys in a life-threatening condition. Through Laura’s car registration details, the Cambridge police (who were amazing) worked to identify her. They sent a constable to Laura’s house to deliver the horrendous news that she had died and the boys had been rushed to hospital – separate hospitals, over 60 miles apart.
We tried to take it all in. We were in shock and we were desperate to see our boys. We didn’t know this at the time, but found out later that Ellis had been on the driver’s side of the car and was lifeless when they found him. He had been airlifted to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge for life-saving treatment. And Jayden had been taken in an ambulance to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, King's Lynn – fortunately he seemed somewhat better than Ellis, but was still in a critical condition.
Then it was a waiting game… we had to wait for an unmarked police car to come and pick us up and take us to the boys. The situation was horrible and made even worse with the fact that Mark and I had to then be separated. But we just got in the cars, not knowing which child we were going to see. I went with my sister, Jodie, to see Ellis while Mark and my mum went to see Jayden.
We were blue lighted all the way and I remember saying to Jodie that if they asked me to go and sit in the family room I would scream. To me, family rooms are the place you see on television where families are told their loved ones have died and I couldn’t bear the thought that one of my boys may not survive.
Of course, when Jodie and I arrived we were sent to the family room and told Ellis had been brought to Cambridge. And rather than hearing the dreaded news that he had died, we were told that Jayden, along with Mark were being airlifted to Addenbrooke’s. However, it was because his condition was deteriorating. But knowing the boys were in one place gave me a little relief, for a passing moment at least.
Once we were all together, we were told that the next 72 hours were critical, for Ellis especially. We were then handed a key… I looked at them in bewilderment. I was told we had a room at a place called Acorn House. I had no idea what Acorn House was. It was completely off our radar that there was free accommodation run by a charity for families whose lives had been thrown into complete turmoil in situations similar to ours.
I said I wouldn’t go; I would sleep in the family room so I could be close to my boys, but the doctors soon explained to me that I couldn’t stay, other families needed this space. The team assured me that I would not be far away, just a few minutes’ walk from the boys and I could call at any time as there was a phone in our room which connected directly to the ward.
We went to see the boys to say goodnight and this was when we finally got to see Ellis. He was in an induced coma and had a bolt in his head connected to a computer. It’s a sight that will never leave me – he looked so vulnerable. The bolt was for intracranial pressure monitoring, which looked at his brain injury and monitored any changes. Although it was painful to see, we were just so grateful he was still alive.
When we arrived at Acorn House we were shown around, but to be honest we still hadn’t taken everything in. Our lives had changed in a matter of hours, so we didn’t take note of where the bathroom was, or that there was a kitchen and living room. But the following day, and the days after, we came to realise how important having these areas were. We felt like we had a ‘Home from Home’ and it gave us great comfort while we waited for our boys to become responsive. We also realised that Acorn House could become our home for the next few months and that did relieve some of our worries. We could be by our boys – the most important people in our lives.
That first night we didn’t sleep much and I called the ward a few times from our room to see if there’d been any change. As soon as the sun rose we went over to see our boys. The nurses on the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) were fantastic. They kept the boys together for the next couple of days, in beds next to one another, which may sound like a small gesture but meant the world to us. The following day, Jayden started to wake up – but he was still completely out of it. He was exhausted and had no idea what was going on. Then to our amazement on Christmas Eve, Ellis woke up from his coma – it was as if he didn’t want to be left behind (and wouldn’t let his older brother do one better than him). Both boys were moved from PICU to the High Dependency Unit (HDU) – they were making progress.
We woke up on Christmas Day to a hamper that had been given to us by Acorn House. It was lovely and for a moment it made Christmas seem normal - we were opening presents! Although the situation was dire, we were so excited to get to the boys on Christmas Day and we were with them within a couple of minutes – this was only possible because we were living at Acorn House.
As we went to give Jayden and Ellis their Christmas kiss and cuddle, we were full of joy. There were times we’d wondered whether they’d see Christmas at all. Despite everything, we had a brilliant day. They had their own presents to open (which had been donated), along with a visit from Santa. As little as it may sound, this was hugely important as the boys realised Santa hadn’t forgotten about them.
Later that day, Mark and I received our best Christmas present ever. I was chatting away and asked Ellis if he wanted a drink. And to my amazement he replied, he said he was thirsty! Oh, the excitement that rushed through me – these were the first words he’d spoken and it was a sign that they were both well and truly on the road to recovery.
The boys were shattered though; they spent all their energy on trying to get better and slept most of Christmas Day. Mark and I watched films all day and our friend had thoughtfully made us Christmas lunch and my sister and brother-in-law brought it to us in lunchboxes and spent the afternoon with us. A week before we’d never have imagined that this would be the way we’d spend Christmas. It wasn’t ideal, but by having Acorn House, it meant we could spend the whole day with our boys – we were there from first thing in the morning, to the last thing at night.
Acorn House really did become our home, we’d walk in and it just felt like home. We had our own room, it was covered in presents and gifts for the boys – our stuff was everywhere! On 29th December Jayden was discharged and came and stayed with us at Acorn House. He absolutely loved it there – he loved everything – especially the quilts. They were so comfy compared to the hospital sheets and that night he slept very soundly.
Ellis was again determined not to let Jayden have one over him – as the following day, after all his tests and monitoring were complete, we were told Ellis could be discharged. We were shocked. We’d expected to be there for months, so to be going home after just nine days simply blew us away.
Since being home, the boys have come on leaps and bounds – there was physio and speech therapy but they didn’t need it for too long. Because the boys had been through the experience together, from the accident to the recovery, they were stronger. We believe that because we were by their bedsides every single day, motivating them and encouraging them, that’s why they recovered so quickly...and because my boys are quite simply determined little people. They’ve been down; they’ve got back up and carried on with their lives.
Sometimes they do have bad days, when they become very angry and upset about the accident. They are about to start counselling to help them deal with this and the loss of their beloved auntie. We make sure we talk about Laura a lot; we don’t want the accident or her name to become a taboo subject. She was amazing with the boys and they adored her, so we’re going to make sure she lives on in their hearts and memory.
It’s just over a year since the accident, and it’s been an absolute whirlwind. The boys make us so proud at how far they’ve come. Christmas was wonderful and thanks to our wonderful family and friends who have raised money for the boys – we will be taking the boys to Florida this year.
We truly believe that by them going through this experience together and having us there, being supported by The Sick Children’s Trust’s Acorn House, made their recovery that much quicker. And for that we’d like to thank the charity for being there for us, so we could be there for our boys.
Nikkita Pesterfield, Jayden and Ellis’ Mum