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“Everything would be OK, as long as we were all together”: Leon’s Story

April 18, 2024

After Sophie learnt during her pregnancy that her fourth baby had a rare and serious heart condition, she and her partner Eoin were shell-shocked.

Not only were they worried about the health and future of their unborn baby, but they also had three older children to think about. How would they all cope when their newest arrival underwent open-heart surgery at just a few days old?

Thankfully, Ronald McDonald House Charities UK was able to offer the family free ‘home away from home’ accommodation, taking away some of their stress and anxiety while little Leon was being treated at Evelina London Children’s Hospital.

Guest blogger: Sophie

I was 24 weeks pregnant when, in April 2022, we found out our baby had a congenital heart disease, called transposition of the great arteries. The condition is where the two main blood vessels leaving the heart, the pulmonary artery (which takes blood to the lungs to pick up oxygen) and the aorta (which takes blood from the heart to the body) are swapped over (switched). Essentially, our baby’s two main arteries were the wrong way round. This condition is described as “not compatible with life.”

We live in Kent, but plans were soon made for our baby to be born at St Thomas’ Hospital in London, and open-heart surgery would be carried out within the first two weeks of his life. The operation would take place at Evelina London Children’s Hospital, 65 miles away from home.

Not only did we have to process that our baby would be very poorly, but we also had to consider our three older children Paisley, who was four, and our then two-year-old twins, Minnie, and Frank. We had huge concerns about how we would manage the logistics of having our family split up at this incredibly difficult time. Let alone where we would stay in central London, and how we would afford it all.

Our son Leon was born at the end of July, whilst our older children were being looked after by family at home. As the time approached for me to be discharged from hospital, we were incredibly grateful to be offered a room at Ronald McDonald House Evelina London, just a short walk from the hospital.

We arrived at the House not really knowing what to expect, and I cannot describe the feeling of relief when we saw how amazing it was. We were given a room, large enough to sleep all of us. It had an en-suite (with an incredible shower), and we had access to huge communal kitchen facilities, day rooms, playrooms, a garden area, dining room, cinema room, and the kindest staff you could ever wish for. Each day there would be food donated from local businesses (we ate a lot of Greggs donuts!), volunteers and past families. Sometimes people would come in the evening and cook meals for the families. We even had a free Nandos!

When Paisley, Minnie and Frank joined us, the staff went out of their way to make the stay fun for them. We had gardening club, arts and crafts, games, and toys. They were even given football kits! On the night after Leon’s surgery, my mum was able to stay with us too, so that Eoin and I could be by Leon’s side in those critical hours.

We were one of the lucky ones and our baby recovered amazingly well. Before we left the House, I made a vow that I would never forget how much this charity helped us. Everything would be OK, if we were all together, and Ronald McDonald Charities UK made that possible.

In April 2024, I will be running the TCS London Marathon to raise funds for this incredible charity so they can help more families like ours through the hardest time of their life. I am no runner, so this will not be easy. But it will be worth it.

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