How to describe my gorgeous, sunny daughter April? She’s five years old and loves swimming and dancing and is always entertaining people. But this tells you nothing really about how special she is to us and how much we love her. You’d never guess we nearly lost her, the only giveaway is the small surgical scar on her throat and the long pink scar running down her chest. April has taught us to appreciate how lucky we are and we count our blessings every day.
I’ll never forget the white panic of being with my tiny baby in the ambulance, and the wailing of the siren, the blue lights flashing, on our way from Watford to Great Ormond Street Hospital, in the centre of London. When I walked through the doors I had a strange mix of emotions, both reassurance that this is the best place for my child to be, and horror that it’s my child who’s sick enough to be here.
On the intensive care ward, all you want to do is take your baby in your arms and hold her and tell her it’s going to be OK. I’d find myself standing frozen in terror as the doctors and nurses rushed around me. I felt so utterly helpless. April had to be put into a coma and ventilated and it was overwhelming seeing her like that, with all the tubes and the wires and the little flashing lights and the beeping of machines. All I could do was try to be brave for April and stand close so she could perhaps smell me and put my finger in her little hand and stroke her cheek.
Of course, not for a second did it cross my mind where and how I was going to stay near April. When it gets to midnight, it’s difficult to put into words the rush of relief you feel when someone tells you about the accommodation, which is free because of donations to Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity and set up ready for you.
We were in GOSH for five and half months as April underwent several big heart operations. When the ward closed for the night I would give my daughter a last kiss and go to the accommodation just across the road. It was always hard to leave but I knew that if anything changed I’d get a call from the nurse and I could be at April’s cot in seconds. When they are that young, they can’t tell you but they know when you’re not there and I didn’t want her ever to look for her mum and me not be there.
Hearing that new accommodation is opening, called Morgan Stanley House, it’s quite astonishing to think that all the fundraising efforts of Morgan Stanley staff, all those single small amounts of money, have come together to create something so tangible. It’s humbling that those strangers recognise the necessity for free accommodation for parents like me, something that had never crossed my mind before I needed it.
After what we went through with April, I can now picture the mums and dads who will stay in those beds. How grateful they will feel to be sleeping near the intensive care ward. Parents like me who will be rushing over to the hospital in the middle of the night in their pyjamas, frantic with worry. Terrified mums and dads, who feel helpless, trying to get some sleep so they can stay strong for their child. And the anxious hours they will spend in intensive care, giving their child the only thing they can, the security of their love.
For those months April was desperately sick, GOSH was my whole world. Friends and family are supportive but they can never fully understand what you are going through in the same way another parent at GOSH can. I remember crying in a corridor and a woman giving me a hug. I told her my story and she told me hers. That realisation I wasn’t alone made it seem a little less unbearable. That’s why I think the communal spaces in the Morgan Stanley House will be invaluable because it will be a space where parents going through similar experiences will meet.
Day to day, I try not to think about that traumatic time but April’s scars are a permanent mark of what she went through. At the moment, April doesn’t like her scars. But when I look at them, they remind me of how intensely I love her and how brave my little girl is who survived against the odds. I keep telling her they are her special scars and I hope one day she will be proud of them.
To find out more about Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity visit GOSH.org