Noah’s Ark Charity
Kelly Marshall-Stradling, 35, from Blaenau Gwent, tells us how Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital cared for her son after he became ill this year
My son, Tommy, is a real chatterbox and never at a loss for words, so seeing him struggle to communicate this year was difficult. Watching him work hard with his speech and language therapist to get back his words has brought me to tears, but hearing his little voice again has been such a relief! Tommy’s health problems began on 6 January this year when he suffered from a febrile convulsion – a fit caused by a high temperature. I had put him to bed and was heading to my room when I heard him making a weird noise. Rushing in, I was horrified to see him having a seizure and quickly called for an ambulance. We were rushed to Nevill Hall Hospital in Abergavenny, where Tommy was taken to the resuscitation unit and then for a CT scan. He had stopped convulsing because of the medication he had been given by the paramedics, but he was unconscious. We were told he had tested positive for influenza A, and that this – along with the medication he had been given – could be the reason he was unresponsive.
“It’s tough for the family to see our fiercely outgoing and independent little boy struggling to do the things he used to do so naturally, but he is gradually coming back to us”
For the first couple of days, everybody thought Tommy’s brain needed time to heal after his seizure and he would soon regain consciousness. However, I felt in my gut that something wasn’t right. Tommy had started to wake occasionally, but it was only for a few moments at a time and he was uncommunicative, glazed and unable to move. Four days after his seizure, Tommy was referred for an MRI scan, which showed he was suffering from encephalitis – inflammation of the brain. Although the influenza had been treated, we were told it would take around a month for the inflammation to come down and then quite a while longer for the brain to ‘reboot’, so we braced ourselves for a long, hard journey to get our Tommy back. On 14 January, we were transferred to Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital for Wales. Tommy became a resident of the Jungle Ward, which cares for children who have a range of needs. It was planned he would start a neuro-rehabilitation programme for 12 weeks. When we arrived on the ward, we were introduced to all the people who would help Tommy on his long road to recovery, including speech therapists, occupational therapists and the physiotherapy team. Within only a few days of working with the speech and language team, Tommy gradually started to speak and get his fighting spirit back, and every aspect of his care – from the nurses to the doctors to the rehab team – was absolutely amazing. At the end of March, Tommy had to be sent home seven weeks early due to the coronavirus pandemic, as he was deemed safer at home than in hospital. The hospital kindly gave us some equipment to take home so that Tommy could continue to work on getting his movement back.
The encephalitis affected the whole of Tommy’s right side, which meant that his arm and leg were virtually paralysed, and he is still unable to stand by himself or walk, so uses a wheelchair. But he is now starting to regain his strength. It’s tough for the family to see our fiercely outgoing and independent little boy struggling to do the things he used to do so naturally. My dad says he misses Tommy’s non-stop questioning of what he’s doing and how things work. His likes and dislikes have also changed. But essentially he’s still the mischievous, loving boy we know, and gradually – thanks to the help of Noah’s Ark Hospital’s neuro-rehab team – he is coming back to us. It’s brilliant that children can receive neuro-rehabilitation with an expert team in Wales now instead of having to go further afield for treatment. We are also incredibly grateful to Noah’s Ark Charity, which helped to provide so much joy and laughter during our time at the hospital. It hosted regular fun days on the wards – which included visits from its therapy dog, Nico, glitter tattoos and staff members in fancy dress – which brought much happiness to the children.
“Having spaces to go to such as a sensory room where the children could relax and a room where parents could go and cook a meal would mean so much”
The charity is also fundraising for new facilities and equipment on the Jungle Ward – where we lived as a family for just over ten weeks. There are quite a few families who are there long-term, either for one long period of time or in and out. For them, having spaces to go to such as a sensory room where the children could relax would mean so much. A family room where parents could go and sit and maybe cook some food in the evening would make a world of difference too. Having a child in hospital is a worrying time and it can be lonely being away from your family and friends, but the right environment can make a real difference to aiding recovery as well as brightening your stay
NOAH’S ARK CHARITY: IMPROVING FACILITIES ON THE JUNGLE WARD
TOTAL RAISED: £70,674
Money raised in The Candis Big Give will help to fund facilities and equipment for the hospital’s Jungle Ward, helping to create a specialist facility for young patients. The ward, which treats 4,000 children each year, will have improved play and therapy areas, fully wheelchair-accessible bathrooms and integral hoists so that older children recovering from neurological injuries can build confidence and independence again. Better facilities for parents will help to improve the experience for children and families who often spend long periods of time on the ward.
➸ Visit noahsarkcharity.org for more information.
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