“When I was told my tiny, six-month old baby needed open-heart surgery, it was a huge shock. I don’t remember feeling much. We’d just been on holiday. I wondered, how on earth did we not know something was wrong?” (Lucy, Bella’s mum.)
Bella and her parents, Lucy and Grant, were on a wonderful holiday when Bella’s problems started. She wasn’t her usual self, sometimes becoming listless and running a fever.
She was quickly taken to a local doctor who reassured Lucy and Grant and said she would be alright, but to make the long journey home more comfortable for Bella, they decided to make a stop at her grandparents in Ipswich.
They had just put Bella down to sleep and started relaxing when things took a nightmarish turn for the worse. From downstairs, they heard Bella give a high-pitched, horrible shriek.
Grant ran upstairs immediately, but found Bella unresponsive and not breathing. She started breathing again when Grant picked her up, but her skin was grey, and they immediately rushed her into hospital.
The Ipswich hospital immediately knew that Bella needed specialist help and arranged for her to be taken to paediatric care at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.
Diagnosing her problem was initially difficult, but a scan of her liver held the key. Bella had developed an extra vein leading from her liver to her heart creating serious heart complications.
A detailed scan revealed that half of Bella’s tiny heart was failing to function properly, and confirmed that she urgently needed open-heart surgery.
This procedure needed to be carried out by the world-leading cardiac unit at Leeds General Infirmary, as the hospital in Ipswich didn’t have the specialist team or equipment needed for such a complicated and difficult procedure.
The problem was Leeds General was over 150 miles away by road.
It was then that the Children’s Air Ambulance flew to the rescue.
Working with Embrace Yorkshire & Humber Infant & Children’s Transport Service, we transported Bella from Addenbrooke’s to Leeds in just 57 minutes, a journey that was to take her parents nearly four hours by road.
This was a journey that Bella would never have survived in her current condition. Unfortunately, there was no room in the helicopter for her mum or dad, and so they completed the difficult, emotional journey, by road.
“He’s a man of few words,” says Lucy. “But he’s since said that was the hardest thing he’s ever done.”
Bella was taken straight into intensive care, and then into surgery.
The open-heart surgery lasted six hours. That’s an hour for every month of her precious life.
Although poor Bella’s recovery was initially slow, she has since grown into an independent, happy little girl who will be five years old this November.
Bella is now doing so well that she has recently been involved in a photo and video shoot for the Children’s Air Ambulance. So full of life, she is as happy as any 4-year-old should be. And she’s got spirit, showing no signs of letting her tragic start in life affect her in the slightest.
Lucy said, “When I look back now, I don’t know if Bella would be here, were it not for the Children’s Air Ambulance.”