On 4 February 2018 our lives were turned completely upside down. Our son, Harvel, was in an induced coma and on a life-support machine, being transferred miles away from our home in Dagenham to The Royal London Children’s Hospital for critical treatment.
At four years old, Harvel caught a nasty cough and cold. This led to a viral-induced wheeze which caused his airways to become irritated and swollen, making it difficult for him to breathe. It’s a condition which is fairly common, so initially my husband, David, and I weren’t too concerned. Our local doctor prescribed Harvel with an inhaler and this seemed to keep his breathing under control for a while.
However, on 4 February we noticed Harvel’s breathing had become particularly bad and, even with the inhaler, it wasn’t returning to normal. As parents, we both felt that something wasn’t right and as a precaution we took him straight to A&E at Queen’s Hospital. Doctors immediately treated Harvel with a steroid inhaler, which appeared to relieve his symptoms. Thankful that it wasn’t anything more serious, we took Harvel back home. Just 45 minutes later things spiralled out of control.
Harvel began to deteriorate before our eyes. He was barely conscious, started to foam at the mouth and was hardly breathing at all. We were in the midst of a parent’s worst nightmare. Our son had been bright and alert when we got home from the hospital but within no time at all had become limp and unreactive. How was it possible? Panicked, we called for an ambulance and prayed that they would get to us in time to save our son.
Looking back I can’t even remember arriving at the hospital. All David and I could do was watch on as medical staff raced against the clock to find out what was wrong with our little boy. It turned out he had developed a life-threatening virus, hidden amongst the symptoms of what we thought was a viral-induced wheeze. Harvel could no longer breathe for himself and was struggling. With oxygen and emergency medication not helping, Harvel was put into an induced coma and on a life-support machine and was hurried to the paediatric intensive care unit (PICU) at The Royal London Hospital to give him a chance of survival.
When we arrived in London, Harvel was rushed away by the medical staff. David and I were left, distraught and overwhelmed, in the waiting room. All we could think about was being close to our son, terrified we might never see him again. Not once did it cross our minds that we were so far away from home, with no idea about where we were going to be sleeping that night. This is when The Sick Children’s Trust came to our aid. It was a nurse who guided us to the accommodation. They told us that there was a place where we could stay, called Stevenson House, run by The Sick Children’s Trust, and that it was just a few minutes’ walk from the ward where Harvel was fighting for his life.
We’d never heard of the charity before and couldn’t believe such a service even existed. We didn’t want to leave the hospital, but knew Harvel was in the best hands, so walked over to Stevenson House where we were introduced to the House Manager, Deborah. She gave us a tour of the house and showed us to our private room. I instantly understood why The Sick Children’s Trust call their houses ‘Homes from Home’ – even in the midst of all the fear and uncertainty, we really got the sense of being at home.
As the days passed, Harvel continued to battle for his life. Stevenson House was just a few minutes’ walk from the hospital and our son’s bedside which made leaving him every night that little bit easier. Especially because our room had a direct phone line to the hospital so we could be contacted easily if his condition ever changed. It also helped encourage us to take a break from the wards – even if it was just for an hour – which enabled us to eat, sleep and regain a little bit of energy because we needed to be in the best possible state to help our son.
The doctors kept Harvel in an induced coma until they were convinced he was stable enough to breathe on his own. The virus had completely destroyed his immune system, so he needed time to regain a little bit of strength. When he was finally woken up from his coma and opened his eyes, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I could allow myself to believe that things might just be alright for my precious family.
Five days after being rushed to The Royal London Hospital for lifesaving treatment, Harvel was allowed to come home. It felt like a total miracle. Now, looking back at the darkest week of our lives, I don’t know how David and I would’ve ever survived without The Sick Children’s Trust.
Having that level of support during such a stressful time was invaluable and that is why we’ll be eternally grateful to the charity. Knowing that we could be by Harvel’s side, day or night, in only a matter of minutes, helped us keep focused and stay positive for our son. I’m convinced this is what helped Harvel make such a quick recovery.
Although Harvel is currently undergoing further tests to try and prevent something like this happening again, we’re so happy to be home as a family. He is our beautiful, brave little boy, who continues to bring joy to our lives every single day.
Harsharan Howell, Harvel’s Mum