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Sick, but still smiling... Christmas in children's hospital

By Lisa Smyth

Hospital staff work hard to make sure as many of their young patients as possible spend Christmas at home with their families.

A special effort is put in as Christmas approaches to ensure families across Northern Ireland can spend the special day together.

However, when a child is too unwell to be discharged from hospital in time for Christmas Day, staff make as big an effort to help the children celebrate.

Dr Brian Grant, a consultant paediatric cardiologist at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, said: “Christmas is obviously a very important and special time for families.

“It’s very important for parents to have their children at home for Christmas and it’s also a magical time for the children themselves, so we do everything we can to make sure they’re at home.

“In the lead-up to Christmas, we try wherever possible to not admit children by seeing if there are alternative ways for them to receive treatment at home.”

He added: “For those children who are in hospital, we look at either tailoring their treatment. Some of our patients would be on intravenous treatment that would normally require them to be in hospital.

“We can arrange for them to go home and come back for a few hours for the treatment, and we can even arrange for that to be done at a hospital local to them. Occasionally, it is possible for the treatments to be administered in the community.”

Dr Daphne Primrose, consultant paediatrician at the Ulster Hospital, said staff understand how important it is for children to spend Christmas at home.

“We work with children so we’re very child-centred and want to do the best for them,” she said.

“It isn’t always possible for the children to go home and in that situation the staff working on Christmas Day make it as enjoyable as possible. We encourage parents, carers and siblings to be here, although we have to be careful about coughs and infections.

“The staff work very hard to decorate the unit and we make sure Santa visits as well.”

Alan Marsh, a staff nurse at the children’s unit at the Ulster Hospital, will be working tomorrow.

He said: “Christmas Day morning is very busy on the ward. Santa comes in and brings presents for all the children still here. There is a nice festive atmosphere.”

Lisa Smith meets some miracle children who will get to spend the special day at home with their families and the inspirational hospital staff who have worked so hard to make it happen ...

Sadbhb Marrs

Miracle baby Sadbhb Marrs has recovered from open heart surgery within days and will spend her first Christmas at home.

The tiny 11-month-old baby from Dunmurry was born with a defect in her heart but doctors have told her anxious parents she will make a full recovery after her surgery.

Little Sadbhb — who shares her first name with Finn McCool’s wife — underwent surgery at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children on Monday.

And yesterday doctors gave the green light for her to return home to enjoy Christmas with her family.

Her dad John said: “She had her surgery on Monday and was moved out of intensive care by Tuesday morning. She was actually smiling before she left intensive care.

“It means so much to us that she will be home for Christmas. We were really keen that she have her surgery in time for her to get home for Christmas Day.

“I can already see such a difference in her. Before the surgery she would get very sweaty and out of breath when she was doing nothing at all.

“She would wake up in the morning and she would be panting, but she is sleeping better now and her wee cheeks are pinker already.”

Mr Marrs said the health visitor first raised concerns about Sadbhb when she noticed she was not gaining weight.

“She advised us to take her to the GP and that is when they picked up the problem with her heart,” he explained.

“She has been on medication for the last six months but the doctors have said they have fixed the problem now.

“It’s amazing we’ll have her home for Christmas. It wouldn’t have been a great story to tell her she spent her first Christmas in hospital.

“She turns one on January 27 so we can enjoy that too. Because she hasn’t put weight on properly she hasn’t been able to walk, but hopefully she will be able to get on her feet soon too.”

Ben Wilson

Four-year-old Ben will open his presents with his family tomorrow after he was allowed home for Christmas. The youngster from east Belfast was admitted to the Maynard Sinclair children’s ward at the Ulster Hospital earlier this week suffering from a chest infection.

His mum Trish said: “Ben had pneumonia when he was two-and-a-half and he has been susceptible to chest infections ever since, although he hasn’t been in hospital for quite a wee while now.

“He was very short of breath and his temperature was very high. He wasn’t eating or drinking so we took him to the GP and she referred him to the hospital.

“It has been hard because I have been in the hospital with Ben and he has a brother Daniel who is two and a sister Amy who is seven, and I’m missing them.

“It is upsetting, too, because Ben has been getting a nebuliser which he doesn’t like and it’s not nice to see him upset, but he has needed it to help his breathing and it has helped him to sleep a bit better.

“The kids had a visit from Santa, too, which was good and helped cheer up Ben. I haven’t finished my Christmas shopping but that doesn’t matter because the family is going to be able to spend Christmas together.”

Ellie O’Neill

Five-year-old Ellie has made an amazing recovery from major heart surgery to make sure she gets home in time for Christmas.

As she helped the nurses in Clark ward as she waited to be discharged, it was hard to believe that only weeks earlier her parents were worried little Ellie would not pull through.

Her delighted mum Sinead explained: “We found out when Ellie was five weeks old that she has a single ventricle, and she was brought into Clark at that time.

“We had only taken her to the doctor with a cold, but she has been in and out of hospital ever since.

“Ellie had a lot of problems this time. After the operation her kidneys and liver were failing and it was touch and go for a while. We thought she was going to have to go on dialysis and her lung collapsed. It has been very scary but she’s all sorted out now and as wonderful as everyone is here, we hope we won’t have to come back for a long time.”

Mrs O’Neill said Ellie, a primary one pupil at St Anthony’s Primary School in Craigavon, is looking forward to the visit by Santa this evening.

“The very first time Ellie came into Clark she was discharged on December 21 just in time to spend her first Christmas at home and now, five years on to the day, she is getting home too,” she continued.

“This must be our lucky day.”

Luke Quinn

Luke will spend his first Christmas surrounded by his family after doctors at the Ulster Hospital gave him the green light to go home. Just nine months old, he was admitted to the Maynard Sinclair children’s ward with a serious chest infection last weekend.

His dad Ryan explained: “He couldn’t breathe, he had real shortness of breath, which was really scary for us.

“He was in about three weeks ago with the same thing and he spent a night in the hospital that time. It seemed to come back again so we brought him back to the hospital.”

Mr Quinn and his wife, who live in east Belfast, have barely left the side of their only son since he was admitted to the hospital.

“We have been taking it in turns to stay with him and everyone has been great, but I didn’t fancy spending Christmas in the hospital,” he said.

“We’re delighted he will get home. He’s been on antibiotics and they have helped him.

“We aren’t ready for Christmas at all because we’ve been here but that doesn’t matter at all because at least we’ll be at home for the big day.”

Charlie Meredith

Little Charlie will celebrate Christmas at home with his twin sister after spending his second birthday in hospital.

The youngster was admitted to Maynard Sinclair children’s ward at the Ulster Hospital with a chest infection which quickly developed into pneumonia.

But he was reunited with his sister Rebecca in time for a visit from Santa after doctors gave him the green light to go home.

“We took him to the GP and they told us to bring him straight to hospital,” explained mum Joanne.

“His oxygen levels were really low and as he has two holes in his heart they wanted to keep an eye on things, and then it turned into pneumonia. He then developed sleep apnoea, which was very scary as he stopped breathing.

“We’ve been taking it day by day and we didn’t know whether we would get him home, so it means the world to his sister that he is. She has been missing him and walking around the house looking for him, checking behind the settee calling his name.”

Mrs Meredith said she has not had much opportunity to prepare for Christmas as she has been spending so much time in hospital.

“Charlie has been sleeping in a special oxygen tent from the waist up since he developed the sleep apnoea to help him breathe. It means everything that we will all be together for Christmas.”

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