Tiny Chloe Brown was a perfectly healthy baby — but two months ago she was diagnosed with a deadly cardiac condition and now her only hope of survival is a new heart.
Aged just eight months, it is heartbreaking to see her lying in the paediatric intensive care unit at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle-upon-Tyne — but that is where she will remain until a donor can be found.
Her pink babygrow hides the scars from the major surgery she has already endured but protruding from the bottom is the mechanical pump that is keeping her alive — and all the while her parents stay at her bedside wishing and praying for a miracle to happen.
There can be no more compelling reason to sign up to the NHS Organ Donor Register than witnessing the suffering of this family and their precious baby.
Sadly, Chloe Brown, from Leeds, is not a solitary example. There are almost 278 people from Northern Ireland waiting for a transplant and eight children and babies are currently receiving life-saving treatment at the Freeman Hospital, where the majority of people from Northern Ireland go for a heart or lung transplant.
A leader in the field of organ transplantation, surgeons there performed the UK’s first successful heart transplant for a child in 1987. They also performed both the first single and double lung transplants in Europe.
Their incredible work goes on every day and this is obvious when you visit the hospital.
Cards with messages of gratitude from patients and their families line the walls of the wards. One young child writes: “Thank you for looking after me, you were all kind and nice. You helped me get better and gave me courage.”
Six-year-old Noah Graham, from Lancashire, has spent 112 days in the children’s ward waiting for a new heart. Like baby Chloe, he has also had a mechanical pump fitted.
Away from home, his family and friends, he is surrounded by toys and colourful cards and posters sent by well-wishers. Despite this, the fragility of his condition is never far away.
Lynne Holt, transplant co-ordinator, explained: “There were four children on the ward waiting for a transplant but one of them didn’t make it. He died before he got his heart. It’s very hard on the others because they get to know each other so well and become friends.”
Of course, staff at the hospital are there to help patients with emotional distress as well as treating their physical conditions with therapists and social workers on hand.
Ultimately, however, they rely upon the recently bereaved to make the heart-wrenching decision to donate their loved one’s organs, with the issue of organ donations from a baby or child particularly sensitive.
The parents of children at the hospital admit that previously it would have been unthinkable but now they recognise that such a selfless act can help save the lives of other children .
Chloe’s mum, Lisa, said: “I’m not sure I would ever have been able to donate my child’s organs but it is different now because we can appreciate what parents go through when their child needs a heart.
“Chloe’s condition has made us realise it could happen to anyone at any time.”