A mother of two who watched her 11-month-old daughter take her ‘last breath’ before going into cardiac arrest and was told by doctors she ‘wasn’t going to make it’ has expressed her immense gratitude after her son survived and celebrated his third birthday last year.
Abby Hessey, 26, an operations executive who lives in Bicester, Oxfordshire, said she was ‘preparing for the worst’ when her daughter Bella, now three, was rushed to Southampton General Hospital, in Hampshire, by ambulance in 2020.
After Bella went into cardiac arrest, Abby said she saw around 30 medical staff try to revive her baby, and was given the devastating news that her daughter may not survive the night.
But now, nearly three years later, Bella, who has been described as a ‘bubbly’, ‘talkative’ and ‘happy’ girl, with ‘a lot of sass’, is ‘living a normal life’.
“I had no hope, I didn’t think we’d ever make it, I didn’t think I’d ever be the same because I thought I was going to lose my baby,” Abby said.
“To be honest, it was just a complete 360 degree life change… just living a normal life now feels amazing compared to what it would have been.”
Bella was born a month early, but was a “healthy, happy, normal baby.”
When she was 11 months old, however, she began developing a rash all over her body and stopped eating and drinking.
Abby took Bella to Horton General Hospital in Banbury, Oxfordshire on several occasions, but said Bella was initially misdiagnosed with an ear and throat infection.
It wasn’t until her fourth hospital visit that Abby was told her daughter had Kawasaki disease, which, according to NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT), can be fatal if not treated in time.
NHSBT says Kawasaki disease is a leading cause of acquired heart disease in children under five in the UK. No one knows what causes Kawasaki disease, but scientists don’t believe the disease is contagious from person to person, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Abby said she was “stunned” when she received the news.
“We stayed at Horton’s that night and they took an ambulance to John Radcliffe Hospital very early in the morning to give her immunoglobulin (the medicine used to treat Kawasaki disease),” she said.
“It worked literally instantly: his rash was completely gone, he ate right, drank right, played, laughed, talked, which he hadn’t done for a week before.
“Once he had it, we were allowed to go home.”
Abby took Bella in for a checkup two weeks later and was told she would need another dose of immunoglobulin – a solution of antibodies taken from healthy donors – as the disease hadn’t been “completely cured”.
However, by this point, Bella’s heart complications had worsened and she was suffering from multiple aneurysms – bulges in the blood vessels around her heart.
Abby explained that Bella’s arteries should have measured 1mm or 2mm in diameter, but Bella’s had swollen up to 14mm.
Bella was given steroids, blood thinners, and injections to prevent blood clots, and at one point Abby said Bella was on 12 different medications.
On the next hospital visit, Abby was told that Bella needed to be taken to Southampton General Hospital as a matter of urgency – and that’s when she feared the worst.
“Being taken by ambulance to Southampton, it was just heartbreaking,” she said.
“Obviously my partner was not allowed to come with us (due to Covid restrictions); he called constantly.
“She drove us in the ambulance, crying, and her parents were there, crying. He was just awful because he thought he potentially would never see his baby again.
Abby said she had “so many things running through her mind” in the ambulance but tried to stay positive and said the medical staff were “great”.
Bella was in the hospital for about three weeks, and it was during the first week that Bella went into cardiac arrest — a moment Abby remembers vividly.
Abby’s partner Luke called the hospital several times, asking if he could visit Bella, and they let him in just days before it happened.
“He was in his high chair and I could see his head come back, take one last breath of air; it was just awful,” Abby explained.
“They hit the panic alarm, and then in this tiny private room on this ward, there were probably 30 people in there trying to jump-start his heart.
“We went into intensive care once they had a very low heart rate, and the doctor came to us and said, ‘I’m really sorry, but I don’t think he’s going to make it through the night. Be prepared that this will be your last day with her.’
“At that point, we were like, oh my god, this is it. We lost our little girl.”
The pair stayed with Bella overnight and, despite the severity of her condition, “somehow made it through.”
Bella is now living a normal life, is “healthy and happy” and is only on two medications.
Abby explained that Bella has undergone several scans since being released from Southampton General Hospital, and they have shown that her aneurysms have shrunk and she has no blood clots.
Abby continued, “She’s almost back to normal; her hers arteries are just a little weaker and slightly deformed, and there is some wall damage in her hers arteries.
He added: “It’s amazing. If it wasn’t for the immunoglobulin, (I don’t think she would have) she would have made it.
Abby would encourage other parents to “follow (their) intuition” when it comes to their children’s symptoms, as she “knew something was wrong” with Bella and is glad she pushed for a diagnosis.
“As a mom, you know what’s wrong with your baby,” she said.
“You know if your child has a cold, or if it’s something more, and you don’t feel like you’re bothering doctors or healthcare professionals if you know something is wrong.
“Keep going back and forth because, ultimately, it’s your child who will be impacted by these choices.”
Abby and her partner Luke, 29, a painter and decorator, would also encourage anyone to donate plasma, as immunoglobulin, a medicine made from plasma, can help treat Kawasaki disease.
The two will be donating plasma themselves, as they want to continue to raise awareness and try to help others.
Abby believes the medicine has given Bella an extra chance at survival and feels extremely lucky that she “made it and she made it”.
Kawasaki Disease Awareness Day will be held on 26 January 2023 and to find out more about blood and plasma donations, visit the NHSBT website here: www.nhsbt.nhs.uk