A woman who was airlifted to Cambridge’s Papworth Hospital after collapsing in an A&E department 25 years ago has presented the doctors and nurses who saved her life with a ‘thank you’ cake – shaped like the ventilator which keeps her alive.
Zoe Doughty, 46, was an art student at university when she was taken ill with pneumonia in December 1992 but did not realise just how unwell she was.
“I was feeling terrible,” said Zoe, who grew up in Wickersley, South Yorkshire, but was studying at Wolverhampton University. “My friend said to me: ‘You look a funny colour; you’d better go to the hospital’.”
The 21-year-old arrived at A&E and lost consciousness. She was transferred to Wolverhampton’s New Cross Hospital where she was put on a ventilator to assist her breathing.
“I was in there for a week, but they couldn’t get me off the machine. They basically told my parents that there was nothing more they could do for me.”
But Zoe’s parents Brian and Zena refused to give up hope. Having recently read a newspaper article about the pioneering work of Dr John Shneerson and Dr Ian Smith at the-then recently opened Papworth Respiratory Support and Sleep Centre (RSSC), Zena urged the doctors to transfer Zoe to Papworth Hospital.
“The doctors at New Cross – who were brilliant and couldn’t have done any more – were concerned I wouldn’t survive the ambulance journey, but my mum said: ‘You’ve got a helicopter, haven’t you?”
Zoe – who was born with spina bifida and scoliosis - was flown to Papworth two days before Christmas Eve.
“I don’t remember much about it. They put me into an ‘iron lung’ to help with my breathing. I was in there for a period of time before they were able to move me on to nasal ventilation.
“When they started taking me off the ventilator for longer and longer periods, I thought: ‘That’s that – thanks very much I’m fit now’. I didn’t realise I had to take the ventilator home with me and sleep with it every night.”
But within a year Zoe says she had got used to life on the ventilator.
“If you’d asked me 25 years ago, I’d have said it’s the ‘beast’. But I came to terms with it fairly quickly; I soon saw how lucky I was.”
Now an activities worker at a St Anthony’s Leonard Cheshire nursing home in Wolverhampton, Zoe said she gets a lot of satisfaction knowing she’s helping other people who are worse off than herself.
“I feel like I was destined to meet and help other people with the 25 years Papworth gave me. I love coming back to the hospital – a lot of the staff are basically like friends, and I could never thank them enough.
“The cake was made by Tim Jones, the chef at the nursing home - it’s just a small token of my gratitude. And it’s a something a bit different.”
Dr Smith said: “It’s always a boost to us to see Zoe and to catch up on how well she is doing.
“She is part of a quiet revolution in the care of people with breathing failure. 30 years ago she would not have survived her illness but the use of home ventilation with a mask at night has given thousands of people across the UK a long-term solution to their breathing problems. The cake was a wonderful, unexpected bonus!”