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Alice flies back to the UK to receive neonatal care

Antoine-Béclère Hospital, Paris

Basildon University Hospital,

296 miles

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Alice was born 14 weeks early whilst her family were on holiday in France. Lia’s Wings supported Alice’s parents, Aiga and Mangal, throughout their time in France and flew Alice back to the UK to receive neonatal care closer to home. Please read Alice's mum's experiences below.

An unexpected arrival

Following 10 years of secondary infertility battling Asherman’s Syndrome, we were expecting our second baby due in December 2023.

At 25 weeks pregnant we went on one last holiday to France as a family of three – me, my son Richard (age 10) and my husband, Mangal. I was given the all-clear from my obstetrician and midwife. Little did we know that the 9-day holiday would turn into 11 weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit.

My waters suddenly broke two days before our planned return so we went straight to the nearest hospital. We were admitted and our baby, Alice, was born three days later, 14 weeks early. She was born extremely premature and weighed just 830 grams. She was tiny!

It was such a scary experience being in a foreign country. We didn’t speak or understand any French so there was a huge language barrier but the hospital staff were amazing and super friendly. Thank God for Google Translate! It got us through it!

Alice had a rollercoaster – she was ventilated for a short period and then was on CPAP oxygen support for the majority of her time there. She had sepsis, to begin with, but no other major issues apart from extreme prematurity. She needed time.

It was the most difficult time in our lives seeing our baby fight for her life. You just never think it will happen to you.

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Dealing with separation

We knew it would be a long hospital stay so the next huge hurdle was being separated. Richard and Mangal had to return to the UK for school and work. I had never felt so alone and helpless in my life.

It was so hard on the entire family. We had never been apart and it was especially difficult on my eldest. I felt so guilty, no child should ever go through this. He was anxious and didn’t know what life looked like without his mummy by his side. Seeing his baby sister like that was a big shock. He kept asking me ‘Why did she come early?’, ‘When will you come home?’ and I didn’t have the answers, just so many tears and prayers.

As for my husband, all of a sudden there was this huge responsibility on him to have the house in order and do school drop-offs and pick-ups, all on top of a sense of duty to be strong for everyone when he also needed a shoulder to cry on. It was a lot to deal with for us all.

Luckily my mum is always here for us, I would be so lost without her! And we have some very close friends who are practically family. Everyone came together to help get us through this!

We took it one day at a time. Video calls kept us going and the hospital assigned a psychologist, Anne, to care for us. She helped me cry, accept the situation, be brave and gave me and my family many coping tools despite the language barrier! We are very grateful to her and all the nurses and doctors at Antoine-Béclère Hospital in Paris. They saved our baby, as well as our family. We grew stronger through this difficult time because of the support around us.

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Fit to fly?

The next thing we knew, the doctor was telling me that Alice would soon be fit to fly and we could start the conversation with the insurance company to get us home. This was exciting news but then it hit me – how on earth does neonatal care operate in the UK? The thought of a new hospital, new doctors and nurses was overwhelming and filled me with anxiety and fear. There were so many what-ifs.

The disappointment came when our insurance said that Alice had to weigh at least 2kg for repatriation despite her doctors telling us she was fit to fly. They said, “Because your baby is stable and in good care, it needs to meet our weight criteria”. This is when we all went into disbelief and nothing made sense anymore. One step forward two steps back.

Our need to be reunited as a family, as well as the need to establish a long-term health care plan with doctors in the UK, was not taken into consideration one bit. We were just left to be. We were stuck in this nightmare situation not knowing how much longer it would take for us to reach their criteria. Alice was up and down after her illness and was losing weight due to all the Edema. It was depressing to see the number that could take us home drop every day.

Discovering Lia’s Wings

Luckily we found Lia’s Wings – the only aeroplane ambulance charity in the UK helping babies and children to receive care closer to home. They had no weight criteria!

I contacted lovely Charlotte to find out more and to see if they could help us. God, I wish I found them sooner. They were my loudest cheerleaders advocating for my Alice and bringing us home. Dr Lee from Lia’s Wings spoke to me about Alice after seeing her medical reports and speaking to doctors in the UK and France. He answered all my questions. I felt like I was dreaming - ‘Is this nightmare really going to end soon?’. They also helped arrange Alice’s emergency documents, helped us communicate with the embassy and secured a bed for Alice in the UK. I’m so proud of humankind when I meet such kind, caring, selfless people. It’s truly inspiring!

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Coming home

And we flew! Alice took her first flight at 11 weeks old! Capital Air Ambulance, Lia’s Wings’ air operator partners, were superb - what an experience! Ian and Iva from Lia’s Wings arrived early afternoon to pick us up. They sorted out the handover from the French hospital and off we went! Lia’s Wings truly took care of everything there and once we arrived back here, they did not leave until all was done and we were settled in our new neonatal unit. Ian and Iva worked tirelessly to ensure there was nothing left for me to forget or worry about. Their experience was shining through. I’m so thankful.

Thanks to everyone along the way, after a short stay in Basildon Hospital (9 days) we were soon discharged and made it home for Christmas! It’s a happy ending to our eventful arrival.

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To other parents

Don’t hesitate to reach out to charities. They truly help and, most importantly, they understand and care so much for us all! Although looking back at what we went through it’s very clear we had strong support around us, but it didn’t feel like that in the moment. It can be such a lonely and dark journey so I always say - accept and ask for help. It is available and there are plenty of people who will be happy to help. I’m usually a shy and reserved individual myself and normally would just get on with it myself, whatever life throws at me, but I’m so so glad I stepped out of my comfort zone and asked for help. Suddenly I was no longer alone. Lia’s Wings had my back. There are not enough words to express my gratitude.

Aiga, Alice's mum, says:

“Lia’s Wings made a difference when it mattered the most. You gave us hope, and so much support that it all seemed too good to be true to begin with, I had to pinch myself over and over to make sure I was not dreaming and I kept asking ‘Really, are you sure it’s possible?’ The support over phone calls, messages clearing my doubts and answering all my questions as well as just being there to chat when the times were rough, you went up and beyond to make sure we were okay!

“Then, when we were ready, Lia’s Wings organised everything and flew us back when no one else would, finally ending our unexpected stay in France to ensure our baby Alice receives the needed care back in the UK where we belong.

“Our family is complete and reunited thanks to Lia’s Wings! Your dedication and hard work have truly changed lives. Thank you for making such a positive impact and being a source of inspiration for us all. An absolute dream team of selfless, caring, professional individuals making miracles happen.

"We are forever grateful for being there for us every step of the way. No one understood our rollercoaster like you did.”

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