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"My fun-loving daughter had a stroke at 2 and a half years old - we were devastated"

October 12, 2021

My wife Katie was only nine days away from giving birth. We were all so excited, Lara was going to be a big sister!

Lara was two and a half years old with long blonde hair and rosy cheeks. She was bouncing around on the bed and then all of a sudden, she was uncontrollably crying. It would turn out that Lara had a stroke.

We rushed her to our local hospital in Dorchester where she was given a CT scan. It showed as clear, but her left side was weak. The consultant quickly liaised with Southampton Children’s Hospital and before we knew it, Lara and I were being airlifted to Southampton.

Due to being so close to giving birth, Katie raced behind us in the car with her parents, we had no idea what the next six weeks would have in store for us.

When we arrived, Lara was given general anaesthetic and put to sleep for an MRI – this confirmed that she had suffered from a stroke. The only silver lining was that she had been able to clear the clot herself so no surgery was needed.

She was admitted to paediatric intensive care unit (PICU) for two days, and this is where we were told about Ronald McDonald House Charities UK.

We didn’t know if we would be in hospital for three weeks or three months and without the Ronald McDonald House Southampton, I’m not sure what we would have done. Katie was due to give birth any day, but that didn’t phase the staff – they couldn’t have been anymore accommodating, nothing was too much for them.

Upon arrival at the House, I met Billy on reception. He already knew about our situation and was very sympathetic. He made us feel really welcome and able to ask him anything. All the staff were amazing, but it was also meeting the other families and chatting to them in kitchen that also made us feel less lonely.

Due to Covid-19, we worried that we wouldn’t be able to have any family or friends in to support us. Not only were we worried about the virus for Lara, but Katie as well. But luckily, Katie’s mum was able to stay with in the Ronald McDonald House Southampton for a few days and on 10 May, our second daughter was born. We named her Bonnie. As happy as we were about the birth, we had to spend three days away from Lara which was heart breaking.

In total, we spent 51 days at the Ronald McDonald House. It was Bonnie’s first home. When Lara started to recover from her stroke, she was able to come to the House most nights for dinner with us. So we were able to be together as a family, starting as three, ending as four! She got to play in the playroom and get out of the hospital setting. We truly believe that being able to bring her over to the House and for us all to be together as a family aided her recovery from her stroke and the friendships we made during our stay helped our emotional recovery.

We don’t know how we would have coped without it. One of us would have had to sleep on the ward with Lara for eight weeks and the other stay at home and then when Bonnie came along, we would have had to split the family in two. One of us wouldn’t have gotten those all important first few weeks with our new baby, and the other one wouldn’t have been able to spend precious moments with our sick little girl in hospital. We were two and a half hours from home, travelling back and forth would have been impossible.

When we left the House, we were sad. We’d felt so welcome and it had been our home for so long and Bonnie’s first home. We got to know all the staff by name and they certainly got to know us and Lara, but it was also amazing to know we were able to take Lara home finally.

Since being home, Lara is continuing to do well. She initially had left-side paralysis, but she is slowly learning to reuse her body again. She’s walking and has some shoulder movement, which is fantastic.

To any families who find themselves in a Ronald McDonald House, there will be good days and bad days, but take each day as it comes. Seek comfort in the people around you as they will make the days more bearable.

Hospitals can be lonely, sad places.

We met some amazing and inspirational people during Lara’s stay. It helped us so much and gave us the encouragement to keep our heads up and tough it our for Lara.

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