It was just another evening last autumn when I went to pick up my 15-year-old daughter, Phoebe, from Police Cadets. I pulled up that night and waited as she chattered, eventually she came over, put her stuff in the car but before getting in said she needed to pop back and tell someone something – and off she went.
I saw her walk up the road, passing two parked cars, and finally stop and wait to cross the road. As I watched her, in my rear view mirror I saw two cars travelling up and said to myself that I hoped she’d seen them.
But she hadn’t.
After the first car had cleared, Phoebe ran across the road and was hit by the second car with an almighty force. The car lifted her whole body up into the air and threw her onto the bonnet of a parked car where she then bounced onto the road head first.
The only way I can describe what I saw is akin to when a dog has a rag doll in its mouth shaking it from side to side making its arms and legs go all over. That’s what Phoebe looked like when she got hit.
I leapt out of my car and ran to her, but before I got there one of her fellow police cadets, Shane, was by her side giving her first aid. He was amazing and very brave – we will forever be grateful for his quick thinking and help. I couldn’t stop screaming, I was in a state of panic and shock, trying to get hold of my husband, Martin, and explain what had just happened. My daughter was lying there completely unconscious and there was so much going on all around. I remember the rapid response vehicle arriving shortly followed by paramedics and an ambulance. This wasn’t any ordinary ambulance; this was part of the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) which provides additional medical care and expertise. The HEMS paramedic and doctor were truly amazing, within minutes they put a neck brace on Phoebe, moved her into the ambulance and were ready to leave – but it all felt like it took hours. I couldn’t understand why they were taking so long, and why they couldn’t just pick her up and whisk off to our local hospital, Whipps Cross University Hospital.
It wasn’t until later that it became clear that Phoebe had severe head trauma and she needed specialist treatment at The Royal London Hospital. I jumped in the ambulance to be with her, while Martin was taken in a police car following.
When we arrived at the hospital, Phoebe was taken straight into to trauma resus while we waited for a bed. There was so much commotion, with lots of police milling - it was just a terrible situation.
We weren’t in A&E too long before Phoebe was transferred to a ward though she was still unconscious. We didn’t sleep at all that night and by the time the morning came, I remember a lady from The Sick Children’s Trust coming over to us and telling us she would take us to our accommodation, so that we could be close by. I was perplexed. There was no need, I said, Phoebe will be better by tomorrow and back home – it still hadn’t registered how serious the accident had been. But she was in a coma, and no one knew what the next day would bring.
We went with Irma from The Sick Children’s Trust across to Stevenson House and it became a place which was much more than just somewhere to sleep, it kept our family together. Our eldest daughter, Jodie, was able to join us and use Stevenson House as her temporary home, so she could be there for Phoebe. Jodie was a rock for us, we needed her there as much as she needed to be with her mum and dad – she really held things together for us and this was made possible because of Stevenson House.
We were terrified Phoebe wouldn’t wake up from her coma. Her injury was a grade three trauma -something we knew nothing about. We knew that her skull was broken and her brain had become damaged, but we didn’t understand all the jargon – we just knew it was serious. We were told she may never wake up and she may never recover…all we could do was wait and hope she wasn’t in too much pain.
Over the following days, Phoebe developed a chest infection. She had a punctured lung and had been so violently sick following the accident we think this may have caused it. And not only that, because of the pressure on her brain she began to have seizures so the doctors had to paralyse her for her own safety.
Stevenson House Manager, Alan, really helped us during these days. He gave us words of encouragement, introduced us to others and made us hopeful that things would get better. Alan and Irma are incredible people who must see a lot of families come and go at Stevenson as they were so good with us, just at making us feel that slight bit better.
After nine long days, to our amazement and huge relief, Phoebe woke up from her coma and was immediately moved to a different ward where the rehabilitation started – and wow, it was incredible. Phoebe was so well cared for, she had intense physio, speech and language therapy alongside occupational therapy – she even started going to the hospital school.
It only took Phoebe five and a half weeks to recover. All the doctors, nurses, cleaners and cooks were amazed with Phoebe’s progress and would visit her not believing she was the same girl they first came to know.
We needed each other and we needed to be there for Phoebe which is why Stevenson House was so vital during this turmoil. Having a ‘Home from Home’ was a huge thing for us for so many reasons. It meant that we could travel this path together and not leave anyone behind. It would have been a nightmare without Stevenson House, to think of all the travelling back and forth – what if something had happened while we were on our way to see Phoebe, or on our way back home? And we wouldn’t have been able to afford any accommodation for the whole family, for the best part of six weeks – it would have been impossible. To put it simply, Stevenson House was a lifeline.
Six months on Phoebe is back at school, but more importantly she’s back at Police Cadets – what she’s most passionate about. She has come back very strong and very determined from her accident - she can do everything anyone else can do, she doesn’t hold back.
From being at Stevenson House, we know just how amazing Phoebe’s recovery has been. We met lots of other families in the house whose children had been in accidents, and although the accident may not have been as bad – the effects they’ve been left with are far worse.
That was something else which was amazing about Stevenson House. House Manager Alan introduced us to families staying and it gave us strength and hope. In such a dire situation, spending time with people who understand what you’re going through makes you stronger and more positive about the following days.
As a mum, I try hard not to relive that moment – seeing my little girl hurtle through the air like a rag doll - but unfortunately it does still affect all of us, in some way or another. But we’re a close family and we help each other through the ups and the downs. And we know just how very lucky we are to have Phoebe here with us.
Ruth Kane, Phoebe’s Mum.