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Kara with Bella and Boo


18 Jul 2018, 9:28 a.m.
Patient Stories

Kara in PICU

Six years ago, mum Monica’s world was turned upside down when her 10 month old daughter, Kara, was rushed to the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit at Bristol Children’s Hospital. What originally seemed to be hiccups turned out to be Kara struggling for breath, and after being given emergency CPR at Gloucester, she was rushed to Bristol Royal Hospital for Children for living-saving treatment. Kara spent the following three weeks fighting for her life, and had a bumpy road to recovery. However, thanks to the fantastic staff at Seahorse Paediatric Intensive Care Unit, Kara beat the odds and is now a healthy and happy seven year old - below, mum Monica tells their story.

'It’s Thursday 22nd March 2012 and Kara, 10 months old at the time, has had an unsettled night. In the morning, I take her to the doctor who confirms that she is struggling with mucus. It is around lunchtime though that Kara starts to have hiccups, except it isn’t hiccups - she‘s struggling to breathe. I phone the doctor again who tells us to get to hospital. Feeling anxious, I knock on a neighbour’s door, and ask if they would sit in the back of the car with Kara and make sure she stays awake. We make it to the paediatric ward at Gloucester Hospital just in 20 minutes.

‘Within minutes, Kara has been fitted with a cannula and an oxygen mask. She has blood tests taken and the next thing I know my beautiful baby girl is being wheeled into the High Dependency Unit where we are suddenly surrounded by nurses and doctors. One starts compressions, another pushes oxygen into Kara. She has stopped breathing and her heart soon stops too. Someone starts timing, 5 minutes, 10 minutes – that’s when they stop isn’t it, that’s what all the TV programs seem to show. All we could see was Kara foot, it had turned grey, 15 minutes, 20 minutes finally she had a heart beat.

‘That’s when we learn about Bristol Children’s Hospital and their PICU (Paediatric Intensive Care Unit). Kara is going there. An ambulance arrived fully equipped not only with vital medical equipment but a doctor and nurse. They prepare Kara for the trip, putting in cannulas just in case they need immediate access while on the trip from Gloucester to Bristol. I’m allowed to travel at the front of the ambulance while my husband sorts out clothes and our accommodation for the foreseeable future.


‘Once in PICU, Kara is hooked up in a load of different ways; cannulas have been put in her right foot, both sides of her groin and both hands. She has suffered an embolism on transfer and needs a blood transfusion. Kara’s heart no longer needs assistance but her breathing is all being done by a ventilator. The doctor explains that Kara’s brain may have been deprived of oxygen and as such they need to keep her sedated, paralysed and cooled down to prevent swelling in the brain. She will stay like this for 48 hours before they try to wake her up.

When the agonising 48 hours are up, the medication is stopped. After two long days we see Kara move, it is just her fingers but it is something. Sadly it doesn’t last, Kara is fighting her breathing tube and the ventilator had to work too hard. Kara is paralysed again and put on an oscillator. This is a piece of equipment which blows the lungs up and then, almost like a washing machine on a low spin, moves the oxygen around the lungs. Sadly it’s a step back for Kara’s recovery.

On day 6, the doctors look to remove the paralysing drug for the second time. Again Kara doesn’t react well and we miss the short window to see our baby girl lucid. We are asked to bring in photos of Kara to stick to her cot to help the nurses know what she should look like.


'Three days later, the paralysing drug is switched off. Kara tries to breathe independently and is working with the ventilator; the oscillator is thankfully no longer needed. She’s moving her hands and feet and finally opens her eyes.

'The next day, I get to cuddle Kara for the first time since this nightmare began. It is the best feeling.

'On day 14, Kara’s is taken off sedation and breathing independently. However her MRI to check for any likely brain damage confirms that a number of areas in the brain had been affected. The doctors are unable to tell us what it will affect and for how long. We are worried that we might not get our little girl in the photos back. That same day Kara is discharged from Bristol’s PICU to a different ward in the hospital so that she could be looked after by the neurologists. In preparation more and more of the wires and cannulas are being removed and finally Kara’s dad gets a cuddle, two weeks after it all started.

'Kara has another week of recovery on the ward. The neurologists keep coming round and assessing her. It appears the part of Kara’s brain damage relates to her motor skills. This is evident as her hands keep moving with very little control; her body is floppy with no muscle control. Kara has effectively been reset to that of new born.

'Day 22 and we are moved from Bristol back to Gloucester hospital.

'Day 26 Monday 16th April 2012 it is confirmed that we are being discharged. The community support we would need when we leave have already been informed of our discharge: the physiotherapists, neurologist and the paediatric consultant.


'That was six years ago, and the prognosis for Kara’s brain damage was not good. We were told, devastatingly, that she may never regain her motor skills, and it was probable that she wouldn’t ever be able to hold anything due to having no control of the muscles in her hands. No mention was made whether she would be able to crawl, walk or talk.

'Well Kara doesn’t walk, she runs, she doesn’t talk, she chatters, she doesn’t grip, she draws and paints. We are blessed and unbelievably thankful to the Paediatric Intensive Care Units at both Gloucester and Bristol Children’s Hospital for saving her life. The wonderful staff there gave us back our baby girl in that photograph and much more.'

Kara with Bella and Boo

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