Little Bella's parents were told she wouldn't survive her four-hour journey to life-saving heart surgery – until this speedy air service saved the day
The Children's Air Ambulance is one of a kind, only able to reach 1 in 3 children like Bella (pictured) in need of their help
After Lucy and Grant found baby Bella unresponsive and grey-skinned, they were told she immediately needed open-heart surgery – at an infirmary four-hours away. Bella's chances of surviving the journey were slim. But then, help from The Children's Air Ambulance flew in…
Early Warning Signs
It was on a normal family holiday when Lucy and Grant first noticed that something wasn’t quite right with baby Bella.
The couple's six-month old child was becoming increasingly lethargic with a fever, acting far from her usual self. After a quick trip to a local doctor, assurances were made that Bella would be fine.
But from there, the situation escalated rapidly.
Stopping by at her grandparents' house in Ipswich to break up the long journey home, Lucy and Grant put Bella down for a quick nap.
But just moments later they were startled by Bella’s high-pitched, nightmarish shriek – or as Grant remembers it, a ‘horrible kind of pig-like squeal.’
By time he’d ran back upstairs, Bella was grey-skinned and unresponsive and within minutes, the family were rushing to reach the hospital.
A Parent's Worst Nightmare
Upon arrival at a local hospital, professionals knew Bella needed specialist attention. She was transferred to a paediatric care in Cambridge, where doctors worked hard to discover little Bella’s problem: half of her tiny heart was failing.
The baby had developed an extra vein, leading from her liver to her heart, causing serious heart complications. She needed surgery – and fast.
The specialist surgeon who could help Bella was over 150 miles away from her location in Cambridge – and she was simply too poorly to make the journey by road
‘When I was told my tiny, six-month old baby needed open-heart surgery, it was a huge shock,’ recalls mum Lucy.
‘I don’t remember feeling much. We’d just been on holiday. I wondered, how on earth did we not know something was wrong?’
The next piece of news was by far the hardest for Lucy and Grant to swallow.
Only the world-leading cardiac unit at Leeds General Infirmary had the equipment to perform the required operation. The problem was, the family were now in Cambridge – over 150 miles away from Leeds.
That’s a four-hour car journey. And Bella, quite simply, was too poorly to survive this journey by road.
Help From Above
But thankfully, Bella received a lifeline from the Children’s Air Ambulance.
Working with Embrace Yorkshire & Humber Infant & Children’s Transport Service, Bella was transported to Leeds in just 57 minutes – a mere quarter of the time it took her devastated parents, who couldn't fit in the helicopter, to drive.
‘Grant’s a man of few words,’ says Lucy, thinking back to that day. ‘But he’s since said that [journey] was the hardest thing he’s ever done.’
Little Bella’s surgery took a gruelling six hours – one for every month of her life so far. But after a slow and steady recovery, Bella is now an independent, happy and healthy young girl.
"I don’t know if she would've survived a road journey. It was that essential she got to the surgeon quickly."
- Lucy, Bella's mum
‘She's energetic and she's not held back,’ gushes father Grant. ‘She's a normal 4, nearly 5-year-old girl who's at school, and who is thriving. We’re very proud of her.
Currently, there is just one Children’s Air Ambulance in action. This one, unique helicopter serves the whole country – meaning the charity can only reach every third child who needs their help.
The charity continues to fundraise for a second helicopter, to provide both a north and south-based service. This will slash flight times further, giving the critically ill children helped by the service an even greater chance of survival.
A healthy Bella is now 'thriving' in life, according to Grant
‘When I look back now, I don’t know if Bella would be here, were it not for the Children’s Air Ambulance,’ explains Lucy. ‘Their helicopter costs a lot to run, but they are worth every penny.’
She finishes: ‘I just don’t know if she would have survived a road journey.
'It really was that essential she got to the surgeon quickly.'