Our son, Jacob, was born weighing a healthy seven pounds, six ounces but very quickly after his birth it became apparent that he was struggling to breathe and his condition rapidly deteriorated. He was immediately taken into intensive care at our local, Colchester General Hospital and we were told that he would need to be transferred to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge for specialist treatment.
The Acute Neonatal Transfer Service took Jacob to Cambridge and we followed in the car. When we arrived we were told that Jacob was in a critical condition and that the next 24 - 48 hours were crucial. We felt so helpless seeing him lying there hooked up to lots of machines, knowing that there was nothing we could do but wait and see how he responded to the medication.
Unfortunately they didn’t have any accommodation for us the first night Jacob was in Addenbrooke’s so we had to make our way home to Colchester which was 60 miles away. It was heart breaking leaving Jacob when his condition was so unstable; we were up worrying all night and luckily first thing the next morning the hospital called to say that they had found us a room in Chestnut House, just a lift ride away from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. To know that we had somewhere so close to stay and would never have to leave Jacob again was such a relief to us both and immediately lifted a weight off our shoulders.
When we arrived at The Sick Children’s Trust’s Chestnut House to drop off some of our belongings, we were blown away; it had everything we could need including a kitchen, living area, bedroom, en-suite and even breast feeding equipment. We were told that it was free of charge to stay which was extremely helpful as we didn’t know what would happen with Jacob’s condition or how long we would need to stay. To know that you can always be close by to your child when they are so poorly means absolutely everything.
Having the accommodation at the hospital meant that we could get into a daily routine which helped us get through every day. It also meant that we had a place where we could take two minutes breather, away from the constant background noise of hospital machines and the many seriously ill babies on the ward which was so difficult to see. To be able to go back to the house together helped to give Luke and I strength and composure ensuring we stayed strong for Jacob at such a difficult time.
As a first time mum I was frightened, confused and completely overwhelmed with everything that was happening. I am so thankful to all the fantastic staff at the hospital and the many families we met along the way both in Chestnut House and on the ward who helped to advise us on many things that Luke and I would never have known, for example a lady told me that I could start expressing and freeze my breast milk until Jacob was ready to start feeding.
The staff in Chestnut House were amazing too, the care and support we received from them was wonderful and really helped to give the house a relaxed and homely atmosphere. It was also lovely to be able to have our family and friends over to the house when they were visiting Jacob. They often brought home-cooked meals with them which we were able to eat together in the dining room. The house really was an important escape for us and looking back I really don’t know how we would have coped without it.
Eventually Jacob was diagnosed with Pneumonia and Meconium Aspiration Syndrome. It was explained to me that this meant that he had inhaled some meconium and amniotic fluid into his lungs during labour. He was put on an Oscillator machine that helped him to breathe by allowing a careful amount of oxygen into his body, without risking his lungs collapsing.
Jacob was in Addenbrooke’s for 10 nights before he was transferred back to Colchester General Hospital where he stayed for a further two nights before we were finally able to take him home for the first time.
Last Christmas instead of presents for Jacob we asked for donations to The Sick Children’s Trust which we personally presented to Alan and Helen at the house. It was lovely to see them again and we hope to stay in touch. We will never forget the support we received from The Sick Children’s Trust, they provide the most wonderful and precious facility to the families of sick children and it will always be a very special charity to our family.
Kelly Barnard, Jacob’s mum