We noticed Pollyanna was poorly at around 12 weeks. She had been suffering badly with constipation, but we assumed and the doctors agreed with us that it was just a normal thing. I was at home alone with Pollyanna when she went very quiet, turned grey and began projectile vomiting everywhere.
I panicked. My husband, Jamie, was at work and so I rang 111 for advice and they told me to take Pollyanna straight to the hospital to get her checked out. Jamie rushed home and we drove straight to Colchester General Hospital together. Pollyanna was breathing erratically and the team sent her for a chest X-ray, which revealed she had a congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH). Pollyanna’s diaphragm had failed to form correctly and had therefore allowed her bowels and intestines to move into her chest cavity, which was putting intense pressure on her heart and lungs. Nothing had been detected at any of my scans when I was pregnant and she had managed three whole months without showing any symptoms apart from the constipation.
When the doctors discovered what was wrong with Pollyanna they acted fast and were immediately on the phone to Addenbrooke’s Hospital. We felt like our lives shattered into a million pieces when we found out that our baby had just a 50% chance of surviving the major operation she needed to save her life. Doctors advised us that even if she survived the operation, it was likely that Pollyanna would suffer from health complications such as congenital heart disease (CHD) and problems with her lungs and breathing, as a result of them being squashed.
She was put in an incubator and as her condition deteriorated she was rushed to Cambridge with me in the ambulance with her and Jamie behind in the car. We were absolutely beside ourselves. Travelling from Colchester to Cambridge is a long, busy journey and we were petrified that something would happen on the way and we’d be stuck in traffic. Thankfully nothing happened and even though it felt like the longest journey of our lives, we were soon at Addenbrooke’s Hospital..
We were on the paediatric intensive care unit (PICU), feeling lost and helpless when one of the nurses told us we would be staying at The Sick Children’s Trust’s Acorn House, just minutes from Pollyanna’s hospital bedside. She handed us the key and told us that there was a team of people over there who would show us around and support us in whatever way they could. The sense of relief we felt was incredible. To be given the opportunity to stay so close to our daughter and never have to be more than a few minutes away when she was so poorly was more than we could’ve asked for at that moment.
The support we had from the minute we walked through the door at Acorn House to the moment we left was outstanding. Acorn House was not just a room, it was truly a ‘Home from Home’. Jamie and I were able to look after ourselves and take time out so we could be stronger for our daughter. Instead of travelling every day and dealing with the constant worry of not being by her side, we were at Acorn House where we knew that at any time we could just nip across and see her whenever we wanted.
We stayed for a week at Acorn House while Pollyanna underwent her lifesaving surgery and recovered. The doctors who operated on her couldn’t believe how she had survived undiagnosed for so long and thankfully were able to move her intestine back into her abdomen and repair the hole in her diaphragm. Acorn House was a lifeline for us – we felt supported by Abi and the team emotionally and met other families who also had young babies and children being treated in Addenbrooke’s – just being able to share what we were going through with them brought a sense of comfort when nobody at home really knew what to say to us.
Without The Sick Children’s Trust we wouldn’t have been able to be beside our daughter during her time of need. And it’s because of the charity that so many families, like ours, can be close to their seriously ill children. On the walls of Acorn House there are stories of how this amazing charity has helped so many families be with their children.
Pollyanna will be two at the end of March and she got the all clear almost a year ago! She wasn’t quite old enough to get excited about Christmas, but we spoilt her and bought her lots of presents and she enjoyed her first visit to Father Christmas.
My little angel is now fighting fit, with no underlying problems and her heart and lungs are all healthy. We have been so very lucky and I can’t believe we have emerged out of this traumatic ordeal relatively unscathed. I think it would have been a very different experience had The Sick Children’s Trust not been there to support us at Acorn House.
Gemma, Pollyanna’s mum