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My NHS Story: Every breath, heartbeat and movement was being watched

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My NHS Story: Every breath, heartbeat and movement was being watched

Teva UK is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the NHS this year. Everyone has a story of how this vital service has saved the lives of loved ones.

Every pregnant mother worries. And every birth carries its own dangers. But can you imagine giving birth and then watching helplessly as your baby is whisked away in an ambulance to undergo major surgery within hours?

This is exactly what happened to Teva employee Kerrie Mahon, Associate Director for Supply Chain. Her daughter, Casey, had to spend the first two weeks of her life in an intensive care unit after being born with two rare congenital conditions known as Tracheo-Oesophageal Fistula (TOF) and Oesophageal Atresia (OA).

Casey made a full recovery thanks to the care she received from NHS staff in 2013. Kerrie, who lives with her husband Rob and her other daughter Abbie in Eastbourne, Sussex tells her story.

“As we prepared for Casey’s birth, we were very excited to have a second child and delighted that Abbie would have a younger sister. Luckily for me we cruised through my pregnancy and Casey was born at 2.4 kg (5.2lbs) in the early hours of 18 May at Worthing Hospital. Although there were some minor complications it was a quick birth and the first time we noticed something was wrong was when we had our first feed.

After a short while Casey began frothing and foaming from her mouth. Initially, nurses believed that as she was a quick birth there could possibly be saliva or other natural material blocking her throat and Casey probably just needed to vomit. But as we tried again to feed her, she continued foaming and frothing as she desperately tried to gulp. A senior nurse came into the room and we discussed whether I was producing enough milk for Casey to help her vomit.

Even though I was beginning to worry, the nurses were so calm and were sure that the so-called ‘gloop’ in her throat just needed to be cleared out. We tried manually inserting milk from a syringe, which also didn’t work. I noticed that Casey was clearly unhappy with what was happening to her.

When this failed, Casey was taken to the Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Despite my concern the nurses did their best to make me feel at ease. I was not well enough to leave the delivery suite so Rob was constantly going backwards and forwards to relay information to me. Although much of this time passed in a blur, I remember Rob saying they may have found an ‘obstruction’, to which I thought: “what on earth can that be? She’s just been born!” 

I really began to panic when I was told Casey needed to be rushed to the Royal Alex Children’s Hospital, in Brighton, for urgent tests. Everything slowed down. One minute seemed like ten. But the nurses knew that I had not yet properly met my daughter and they allowed me some time to see her before she left.

The first time I held my daughter she had wires and tubes coming from all over her tiny body whilst she was attached to several gadgets. It was an unforgettable memory. The amazing nurses carried on giving me constant reassurance about my daughter and had the good sense to leave me in the delivery suite. They knew that moving me to a mother-baby unit whilst my child was being taken away from me would have made me even more distraught.

But it was when Rob arrived at the Trevor Mann Baby Unit that things got really dark. We were told about all of the health problems that Casey could have. Many of them were life-changing and some were life-threatening. We struggled to concentrate as doctors tried to explain the possible outcomes of all the tests they were doing.

Sometimes there is a divorce of logic and you just want to hear that she is going to be ok. But when doctors explained the huge range of potential problems it was extremely scary for us. It was agreed that I could be discharged and I rushed to the Royal Alex, where I could be with my daughter.

The car journey to Brighton was surreal. It’s hard to know what to say to someone who is in the state that I was. Over the three to four hours since Casey moved hospital she underwent numerous tests for many different illnesses. By the time I arrived the doctors had narrowed down what they believed her illness was, telling us that they believed she had TOF/OA and that surgery would take place the following morning.

Things came good quickly, despite the uncertainty, and me still thinking “what do you mean she has to be cut open? she is only one day old!”

I was still in shock, but the fantastic staff at the Trevor Mann Baby Unit did their best to make me feel better and arranged for us to spend the night just a few floors below. Whether it was taking care of car-parking fees, finding a place for me to express milk, or just generally helping us out, they were always there.

That night Rob and I took turns to watch over Casey. The next day it was tense as we watched Casey being checked over and prepared for surgery. Before the operation, the incredible senior consultant came to see us. She was so proud of her record in helping babies recover and the little scarring she would cause during the operation.

She told us that she would try to keep the scarring to a minimum by making an incision under her armpit, meaning the scar could not be seen when her arms are down. To this day, we still refer to Casey’s scars as ‘her beautiful scars’.

It was this kind of treatment - the way the surgeon projected forward into Casey’s future - that we were super lucky to have. Once the operation was complete, we were told that Casey had a ‘short gap’ between the upper and lower part of her oesophagus, making a full recovery more likely.

Casey was incubated, supported with oxygen under heavy sedation, and was fed directly to her stomach. All the tests came up good. She began to put on weight and after three weeks, Casey was discharged completely.

It was really sweet to see Abbie meet Casey for the first time, for her to say ‘hi’ to her little sister and to see Abbie act so naturally around her. As her recovery continued, we were still on high alert for every whimper and cry. But after 16 appointments and checks over the next 18 months she has made fantastic progress.

Casey is incredible, utterly amazing, and although we have to monitor her chest, see how her body develops, and be aware of the surgery she had, we believe that every year she gets stronger and tougher.

Our family cannot speak highly enough of the wonderful NHS staff that cared for our precious Casey, especially for those working at the Trevor Mann Baby Unit, who were exceptional. They made us feel like they were always holding our hands and ready to take care of the little things that can make being in that situation even more stressful.

It is wonderful that this sort of care exists. When I look back I know that every breath, heartbeat and movement was being watched – and that’s what we all need sometimes.”