The parents of a baby girl who was born at just 27 weeks have been on a fundraising mission for The Sick Children’s Trust – a charity that supported them with free ‘Home from Home’ accommodation whilst their daughter was receiving lifesaving treatment in a hospital, 60 miles from home.
Laura Penfold, 32, and her husband Chris, 37, were horrified when Laura’s waters broke 13 weeks early on 28 December 2016 at their home in Chelmsford. Less than two hours later their daughter, Willow, was born at Broomfield Hospital weighing only 2lb 10oz. She was placed in a plastic bag to keep her temperature high and rushed to the special care baby unit (SCBU). Struggling for every breath, doctors made the decision to intubate tiny Willow and place her in an incubator before she was transferred 60 miles away to The Rosie Hospital in Cambridge for lifesaving treatment on the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Mum, Laura, who was taken into surgery following the birth of her daughter, says:
“Willow could have been moved anywhere in the country, but a place was fortunately available at The Rosie Hospital in Cambridge. At a few hours old, she was transferred by the Acute Neonatal Transfer Service (ANTS) team in a specialised ambulance for the hour and a half journey.
“Chris and I rushed to join Willow once I had been discharged. She was tiny and barely resembled a baby with all the wires and masks covering her face. Even the tiniest of nappies covered up most of her torso. We were told by the doctors that Willow would need to stay in hospital, most likely until her due date, still three whole months away! The Rosie Hospital is around 60 miles from our home – and my son, Finley. We just couldn’t fathom how we were possibly going to manage. Fortunately, it was at this point that we heard about The Sick Children’s Trust. The nurse told us there was a charity that might be able to provide us with free accommodation, only minutes from Willow’s hospital side.”
The Penfolds were given a room in Chestnut House, one of two ‘Homes from Home’ in Cambridge run by The Sick Children’s Trust, which meant they were never more than a couple of minutes from their daughter’s hospital bedside. To say thank you to the charity for its help, Laura organised a big charity bake sale at work on World Prematurity Day (17 November) and raised £320 for charity. She continues:
“Because of The Sick Children’s Trust I could spend my time by my baby’s incubator, bond with her and be involved in all aspects of her care, such as changing her nappy and cleaning her. I could also be present for ward rounds, speak to doctors and ask questions about her progress and treatment. There was also a phone in our bedroom which connected directly to NICU; when I got up in the night to express milk, I would phone NICU to check on how Willow was during the night.
At two days old, doctors attempted to take out Willow’s breathing tube however this did not go well and after a couple of minutes, Willow’s lungs haemorrhaged and began to collapse. She was nine days old when they were finally successful, and Willow could have a few drops of breast milk.
Laura continues: “Since her birth, I had been expressing milk every three hours (day and night) from my room in Chestnut House to stimulate the supply. A very laborious task, but one that I found important and perhaps gave me a sense of purpose at a time when I felt utterly helpless. Staying at Chestnut House allowed me to do this and meant I had access to their hospital pumps and lactation consultant - another valuable resource.
“As the days went by, we waited for Willow to grow stronger. It was a rollercoaster journey, often feeling like we were taking one step forward and then two steps back. Some days I was able to hold her, then some days she wasn’t strong enough and I would return to Chestnut House in tears, only for the amazing staff there to comfort me and listen to my woes.
“We have been fundraising for The Sick Children’s Trust because we want to give something back to the charity that gave so much to us. On the day we sold approximately 100 cakes. We were surprised by the popularity of the event - and how fast the word spread round the building. People were very generous and took an interest in asking who we were fundraising for. We had Willow with us, which attracted some attention, and people were interested to know our story. It went so well that I’m planning to do another one at the start of next year and hopefully raise even more. We even had some requests for next time!”
At six weeks old, Willow came off oxygen altogether and then at eight weeks and three days, Willow was discharged from her local hospital and her proud family were able to take her home to join Finley, for the first time. Dad, Chris, who is fundraising for The Sick Children’s Trust in the New Year by recreating the journey Willow made before her specialist care began, says:
“The day Willow came home our hearts sang. We had been waiting weeks for our baby girl to be discharged and although nervous, we were so excited. I can’t thank the charities who supported us during our terrible ordeal enough, which is why I have decided to plan this interesting fundraising challenge.
“I’m going to recreate the journey Willow made from the point Laura's waters broke at home, then to Broomfield Hospital and on to The Rosie Hospital where her specialist care began. The first leg will be a run of just over 14 miles from our home to Broomfield Hospital, followed immediately by a cycle on to The Rosie Hospital, a further 54 miles away. I'm hoping to raise as much as possible for the charities that supported us; if I can exceed my £3000 target I will make the return journey home, doubling the distance of this challenge to 116 miles.”
The Sick Children’s Trust runs ten free ‘Homes from Home’ across the country supporting around 4,000 families with seriously ill children in hospital every year. Abi Abdel-aal, Chestnut House Manager, says:
“It means so much to us when families like Willow’s return home and continuing thinking of us and fundraise to say thanks for keeping them together. It costs the charity £30 to support a family for a night in one of our ten ‘Homes from Home’ across the country and we rely solely on voluntary donations.
“The photos from Laura’s bake sale looked lovely and we are so grateful for the money she raised. And we have every faith that Chris will exceed his £3,000 fundraising target, although if he does I am sure he will be exhausted after the challenge.”
To get behind The Sick Children’s Trust and sponsor Chris through his challenge please visit: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=ChrisPenfold&pageUrl=3