How a family survived Christmas in hospital

Rachel and Richard Walmsley spent Christmas two years ago in Sheffield Children's Hospital with their daughter, Mikka,  five, when she had brain surgery. They stayed in accommodation provided free by the Sick Children's Trust, which is now launching an appeal for more accommodation. Also pictured is brother, Blake, two
Rachel and Richard Walmsley spent Christmas two years ago in Sheffield Children's Hospital with their daughter, Mikka, five, when she had brain surgery. They stayed in accommodation provided free by the Sick Children's Trust, which is now launching an appeal for more accommodation. Also pictured is brother, Blake, two

RACHEL Walmsley had little idea what Christmas would bring that day in October when she collected her daughter Mikka from nursery.

“Everything seemed fine. Later that night I noticed something was wrong when, to my horror, my daughter appeared to be showing the tell-tale signs of having a stroke. I couldn’t believe that it was possible. Mikka had only just turned three years old.”

A CT scan at Sheffield Children’s Hospital revealed that Mikka’s brain had swollen and crushed against her spine and she needed urgent ‘cramicentral decompression’ surgery.

It was touch and go after the operation, but Mikka came through. It meant that she spent Christmas 2010 in the hospital - and so did the family.

They were able to stay at Treetop House, free family accommodation on the top floor of the hospital, which is provided by The Sick Children’s Trust, and which has launched its £1.2m Branching Out appeal to finance another ‘home from home’, next to the hospital.

Rachel and her husband, Richard, who live in Cudworth, Barnsley, have no doubt about the value of a temporary home which was within easy reach of their daughter.

“It allowed my husband and I to stay exactly where we wanted to be, right at Mikka’s side,” said Rachel. “We also had a six week old son Blake and therefore this accommodation was a godsend. I honestly do not know how we could have coped without this help. The members of staff at the house were wonderful and reassured us during our greatest time of need.”

Initially, Mikka suffered setbacks. After the initial operation, her spine went into shock and the family was told she would have to lie flat for six weeks. During this time her bowels developed three large perforations and she had to undergo a total hemicolectomy in early November.

Then, a month later, Mikka started to move her right arm.

“We were over the moon. It was like an early Christmas present! The nurses and I were in floods of tears as Mikka rang the rest of the family to tell them of her improvement. I couldn’t have been happier to know that Mikka was making some form of recovery from all the trauma her little body had endured.”

Two years later, Mikka can move both arms and both hands, and can hold herself up “so it appears her balance is coming but slowly but surely and can breathe normally.

“She recently had to have botox in her arm as it was twisting and pulling her spine round but apart from that she’s had no other operations. She is really happy and has smiled all the way through this tragedy. It is that and Blake that’s kept us going, through the ups and downs. She is settled into a normal school and is loving being there.

“The family is doing really well now. We’re really happy and although it’s unlikely Mikka will ever walk again and life is very different she’s still our little girl and here with us now and that’s all that matters. Being able to stay at Treetop House made this whole terrible experience more bearable for the entire family. We cannot thank The Sick Children’s Trust enough for allowing us to be at our daughter’s side.”

l The Branching Out Appeal aims to finance an 11-bedroom house where families can stay next to the Children’s Hospital.

You can make a donation by clicking on the appeal button on the Telegraph website, Sheffield Telegraph If you would like to help by organising an event or collection, contact regional fundraiser Samantha Silverwood on samantha@sickchildrenstrust.org, or call Treetop House on 2717176.