A mother-of-two who watched her 11-month-old daughter take her “last gasp of air” before going into cardiac arrest and was told by doctors she “would not make it” has expressed her immense gratitude after her child survived and celebrated her 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 years old, was rushed to Southampton General Hospital, in Hampshire, in an ambulance in 2020.
After Bella went into cardiac arrest, Abby said she watched as approximately 30 medical staff tried to resuscitate her baby, and she was given the devastating news that her daughter might 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, didn’t think that we would ever make it, didn’t think that I would ever be the same because I thought I was going to lose my baby,” Abby said.
“It’s just been a complete 360 life change to be honest … just living a normal life now is amazing compared to what it was going to be.”
Bella was born a month early, but she was a “healthy, happy, normal baby”.
When she was 11 months old, however, she started to develop a rash all over her body and stopped eating and drinking.
Abby took Bella to the Horton General Hospital in Banbury, Oxfordshire, on multiple occasions, but she said Bella was initially misdiagnosed as having an ear and throat infection.
It was not until the 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 one of the main causes 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 “gobsmacked” when she received the news.
“We stayed at the Horton that night and they gave us an ambulance to the John Radcliffe Hospital very early in the morning to give her the immunoglobulin (the medicine used to treat Kawasaki disease),” she said.
“It literally worked instantly – her rash had completely gone, she was eating fine, drinking fine, playing, laughing, speaking, which she hadn’t done for a week prior.
“Once she had that, we were allowed to go home.”
Abby took Bella for a check-up two weeks later and was told she would need another dose of immunoglobulin – a solution of antibodies taken from healthy donors – as the disease had not been “fully 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 swelled to 14mm.
Bella was given steroids, blood thinners and injections to prevent blood clots, and at one point, Abby said Bella was taking 12 different medications.
At the next hospital visit, Abby was told Bella would need to be taken to Southampton General Hospital as a matter of urgency – and that is when she feared the worst.
“Being taken off in an ambulance to Southampton, it was just heartbreaking,” she said.
“Obviously my partner wasn’t allowed to come with us (due to Covid restrictions); he was constantly calling.
“He saw us off in the ambulance, crying, and his parents were there, crying. It was just awful because he thought he was potentially not going to see his little girl again.”
Abby said she had “so many things racing through (her) mind” in the ambulance, but she tried to stay positive and said the medical staff were “amazing”.
Bella remained in hospital for approximately 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 allowed him to come in just days before it happened.
“She was in her high chair and I could see her head going back, her taking a last gasp of air; it was just awful,” Abby explained.
“They pressed the panic alarm, and then in this tiny little private room in this ward, there was probably 30 people in there trying to get her heart started again.
“We went into intensive care once they got a really low heartbeat, and the doctor came over to us and said, ‘I’m really sorry, but I don’t think she’s going to make the night. Just prepare yourself that this is going to be your last day with her.’
“At that point, we were like, oh my goodness, this is it. We’ve lost our little girl.”
The couple stayed with Bella overnight and, despite the severity of her condition, “somehow, she made it”.
Bella is now living a normal life, is “healthy and happy”, and is taking only two medications.
Abby explained that Bella has had several scans since being discharged from Southampton General Hospital, and they have shown that her aneurysms have shrunk and she has no blood clots.
Abby continued: “She is almost back to normal; her arteries are just a little bit weaker and slightly deformed, and there’s a bit of wall damage in her arteries.”
She added: “It’s amazing. If it wasn’t for the immunoglobulin, (I don’t think 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 she is glad she pushed for a diagnosis.
“As a mum, 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 don’t feel like you’re pestering the doctors or healthcare providers if you know something’s wrong.
“Just keep going and going and going because, at the end of the day, it’s your child that’s going to be affected 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 to treat Kawasaki disease.
The pair are going to donate plasma themselves, as they want to continue to raise awareness and try to help others.
Abby believes the medicine gave Bella an extra chance of survival and she feels extremely lucky that “she did pull through and make it”.
Kawasaki Disease Awareness Day is being held on January 26 2023, and to find out more about plasma and blood donations, visit the NHSBT website here: www.nhsbt.nhs.uk