Harrison's Story

Written by his dad, Duncan

The whole situation came about last year when my one-year old son (Harrison) caught croup after a family holiday...

He was in and out of hospital for a few days on a mixture of steroids and oxygen before they realised he just wasn’t recovering and was actually becoming much weaker. We were informed that he would have to be intubated and transferred to St Mary’s hospital in London. I had no idea what ‘intubation’ was or even heard of St Mary’s, so both my wife and I were incredibly nervous. We were told about the usual risks with intubating someone, especially someone so young and obviously this didn’t help. However, after what felt like an eternity we were informed by the nurse that it had been successful and we would shortly be transferred. 

The CATS team were truly brilliant in transferring him to St Mary’s. It was actually quite inspiring seeing them come in and take control. Their single goal to make sure our little boy arrived at St Mary’s in exactly the same condition, and that’s no mean feat when you consider the amount of wires and tubes that needed to be unconnected and reconnected, coupled with the fact they couldn’t really move him.

He was transferred successfully to the PICU and the moment we arrived we were immediately welcomed and reassured. A kind nurse took me to a spare bed so I could get some sleep, while my wife waited by Harrison’s bedside. In the morning we were informed that we would likely be in for a few days, maybe a week, while they established what was wrong with him. We were also told that if we required it they would supply us with a hotel room across the road from the hospital. So we decided to take shifts, meaning that one of us could go home and see our four-year old daughter (Molly) who was also becoming a little distressed by the situation.

We spent a total of 12 days at St Mary’s PICU, and I can’t sing their praises enough. Harrison was intubated for 10 days and over that time he was observed every single minute. The nurses were incredibly kind and patient with us, especially over the first few days where we tried to establish if his symptoms looked ‘normal’ and whether they had seen anything similar, anything to reassure ourselves. They explained he was perfectly comfortable and that he would remain that way until they were completely sure he was ready to progress. I watched as they moved him around to prevent sores, changed him and even went in search for a fan when the weather became surprising warm.

Later in the week during my stints I noticed myself becoming part of the routine, helping where I could and saying ridiculous things like “Aren’t we running a little low on Midazolam?” Again, the nurses were absolutely brilliant and understanding, explaining to me how the machines worked and how the doses would be taken down slowly.

We were always provided accommodation but the waiting room becoming a sort of home from home, a place where my wife and I would meet and exchange stories about our evenings, before heading off in separate directions once again. It was also a communal place to meet the other parents whose children were on the ward. People that in any other place I would have little in common with became essential friends. We would explain how our children were doing, congratulating each other with biscuits and tea over any sign of good news and reassuring each other over bad.

The fact that it was a ward filled with children made it all so much harder. I found myself wanting to kiss all of the children goodnight, and their every cry and whimper broke my heart. I wasn’t the only parent to think this.

The days when the tubes were taken out were cause of mass-celebration in the waiting room, chocolate Hobnobs would make an appearance and everyone was anxiously looking forward to the day their child was well enough to support themselves. So when the day came for Harrison’s tube to come out I have to admit I was ridiculously positive. I’d seen 3 other children have the tube taken out so assumed it would be a walk in the park. I was wrong, there were a manner of problems, and he was still incredibly weak and still struggled for breath. We realised quickly that he would have to be intubated again and my heart sank. It was a massive reminder that we were in intensive care.

That night while I was sat at his bed feeling very melancholy, I took a piece of paper and a pen and decided to write a note to Molly. I wanted to try and establish in my head what I could possibly say to my daughter if Harrison didn’t survive the ordeal. I knew that my parents, family and friends would take it incredibly bad, but how would I explain to a 4 year old girl that she would never see her brother again. The following morning I had a piece of paper with the word Molly written on the top. There simply was no way to say it.

But things did improve, it had simply been too early for him and a few days later everything was looking much better. One night while I was on the ward, I said to our nurse that I would have to do something to raise awareness and funds for the intensive care unit. I was then informed about COSMIC, which was set up to provide for the ward (including the parents). It was the reason I had a hotel room to stay in that night and had even provided the tea I was drinking.

I suddenly remembered that I had foolishly entered the ballot for the London Marathon. I entered after a news segment reminded it was last week for entries, and it was always something I’d considered. So I went on to the website and put my name in, thinking that I would always be able to say that “I’d tried” - the odds of getting in weren’t exactly in my favour! However I suddenly felt good about my chances...this was going to be karma.

So I said to the nurse “I tell you what, if I get that ballot place in the marathon, I’ll run it for COSMIC!” 3 months later I received a text from my wife announcing I’d got a place!

Since then I’ve been training regularly and building up sponsorship, but mostly just trying to explain to people why I am doing it. The reason still lies folded up in my wallet, a small piece of paper with one word written in it, but the reason I give is ”they gave me my boy back”. Those 6 words are more than enough encouragement to put my trainers on. Even as I type them I feel a little teary at the situation we found ourselves in and just how different things could have turned out. It opened our eyes to the little things we blow out of proportion and how menial our jobs were in comparison to all the wonderful people we met along our journey at St Mary’s.

Duncan ran the London Marathon for COSMIC in April 2013 and raised nearly £3,000!