Nurse Kate Gardner was living on the Isles of Scilly when she suddenly went into labour in the middle of the night, at just 28 weeks pregnant.
She was taken by the Royal Navy helicopter safely to the mainland just in time to give birth to baby Jack, less than six weeks before Christmas in 2005. He only weighed 3lbs, which is around the same size as two bags of sugar.
After eight weeks at the Royal Cornwall Hospital, Jack and his family were able to return home to the Isles of Scilly.
But a matter of weeks later, and just after his first Christmas, Jack suddenly developed severe breathing difficulties. Kate was worried that living so remotely meant her baby’s life was at risk as he was struggling to breathe. She dialled 999 and Cornwall Air Ambulance was tasked to help.
On arrival the specialist paramedics checked baby Jack over and used a nebuliser machine to check his oxygen levels and make sure they could get him to hospital. The crew were able to airlift Kate and Jack to Treliske within just 20 minutes.
When they arrived, he was mottled with severe breathing difficulties and was treated immediately before being moved to the high dependency area.
Kate said: “As soon as they got him there, we got him undressed and he was actually quite blue and a bit floppy, and his breathing was really bad. Immediately he had lots of attention from doctors and received lots of drugs, he ended up on the high dependency unit there. Had we waited much longer and had the Cornwall Air Ambulance not been able to take us off Scilly when it had, I’m not sure the outcome would have been as successful.”
After a few days of treatment Kate and Jack went back home to the Isles of Scilly, but within a week Jack suffered the same difficulties. This time the Royal Navy flew them to Treliske again overnight, as at the time Cornwall Air Ambulance didn’t fly at night. Jack was diagnosed with subglottic stenosis and he was transferred to Bristol Children’s Hospital, where he underwent surgery and stayed for a month.
Remarkably Jack made a full recovery. He’s now over six feet tall, has completed his GCSEs and has just turned 17. He still has the Cornwall Air Ambulance teddy bear that the crew gave him the day he was airlifted to hospital.
Kate said: “Without Cornwall Air Ambulance things could have been very, very different. The outcome for Jack could have been very different, so I always thank my lucky stars that they were there for him.
“I’m actually a nurse so I have some knowledge of things, but on the other side as a parent, it can be very distressing as you understand how dangerous something can be. When I realised his breathing was as bad as it was, I knew they didn’t have the specialist skills on the Isles of Scilly, so when they said the Air Ambulance was coming it was like, a real relief, because I knew I would get to hospital quickly with him.
“As a parent your mind goes a little bit numb and a bit fuzzy, but the crew were so great and reassuring. 20 minutes later we were in Treliske, just in the nick of time.”
This year Jack, who is a big fan of Christmas, will be celebrating at home in Devon with mum Kate and his sister who will be coming home from university.
Kate added: “I always get a little bit teary around his birthday, as it was such a horrible time for us all. You just can’t take anything for granted in life, and things could have been very different for us as a family if Jack didn’t get the help he needed. Christmas is a lovely moment for us all and a very thankful moment. I can’t imagine what would have happened if we didn’t have the Cornwall Air Ambulance that day, it is absolutely vital.”
You can help keep supporting families like Jack’s this Christmas. Donate here: www.cornwallairambulancetrust.org/christmas