Walk­ing won­der


The People - - NEWS FEATURES - By Grace Ma­caskill

TWO-YEAR-OLD Bethany Comben grins as she tot­ters across the liv­ing room – and though it took her longer than most to be­come a tod­dler, for Bri­tain’s youngest stroke sur­vivor ev­ery step is a gi­ant achieve­ment.

Bethany was just 13 months old when she suf­fered two bleeds on the brain in 16 days.

But af­ter com­plex brain surgery and months of physio the tot has taken her first steps un­aided.

“It might be a bit late,” says her proud mum Alice, 32, “but it’s even more spe­cial.”

It’s just over a year since Alice – who had just gone back to work as a civil ser­vant – had a call from her mum Janet at home to say Bethany had let out a “hor­ren­dous scream” then gone limp in her cot.

Alice and hus­band Phil, 32, rushed to Maid­stone Hospi­tal where doc­tors sus­pected their daugh­ter might have menin­gi­tis.

A CT scan re­vealed a bleed on the brain and the un­con­scious baby and her par­ents were blue-lighted 36 miles to King’s Col­lege Hospi­tal, Lon­don. “That was the worst jour- ney of my life,” said Alice. It felt like a liv­ing night­mare.

“Bethany was in an in­cu­ba­tor. I tried to stay calm but I felt on the edge of panic.”

At King’s tests showed the bleed – plus a small hole in her heart which can dis­rupt blood flow and po­ten­tially cause clots.

Alice said: “We couldn’t be­lieve it when the doc­tors told me Bethany had a stroke. It was such a shock.

“I didn’t re­alise chil­dren could have strokes – let alone ba­bies.

“She’d been ill for about a week be­fore,” says Alice. “She had a sore throat and sweats but we just thought it was a bug.

“I’d had a nor­mal preg­nancy and she was such a fit, healthy girl un­til then, reach­ing all the nor­mal mile­stones.”

Af­ter more treat­ment at Evelina Lon­don Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal Bethany fi­nally went home 11 days later.

Alice said: “It was a bit scary be­ing back home but lovely.

“She was do­ing re­ally well. She had some left sided weak­ness and was un­able to use her hand, arm or leg very well. But she was al­most back to where she had been.”

Then five days later Bethany suf­fered seizures and was rushed back to King’s where sur­geons dis­cov­ered a sec­ond stroke. Alice said: “They told us if they didn’t op­er­ate we could ex­pect worse news. “But if they did, Bethany could be paralysed down the left side of her body, and would prob­a­bly need a lot of on-go­ing sup­port.” Thank­fully, the op went well but Phil, also a civil ser­vant, said: “She was so poorly and devel­oped fluid on her brain which needed two lum­bar punc­tures.” Five weeks later Bethany fi­nally made it back again to the fam­ily’s home in Maid­stone, Kent. But Alice added: “When we came home from the hospi­tal, we re­alised just how weak Bethany was. “She couldn’t even sit up any­more. It was so hard to watch.” A year later Bethany is thriv­ing – but what caused the stroke is a mys­tery. Alice said: “Doc­tors think she may have had a heart in­fec­tion which caused the hole and the stroke. They didn’t find any bac­te­ria in her heart so they don’t know for sure, but that’s the the­ory.” Child­hood strokes af­fect only five out of ev­ery 100,000 chil­dren in the UK. A stroke oc­curs when blood sup­ply to the brain is cut off by a block­age or bleed. Warn­ing signs in­clude weak­ness or paral­y­sis on one side, speech prob­lems, headaches and vom­it­ing.

The Bri­tish Heart Foun­da­tion aims to raise £100mil­lion each year for re­search into cir­cu­la­tory disease, stroke and dementia to help peo­ple like Bethany. See bhf.org.uk.

FUN AND GAMES: Bethany with par­ents at fam­ily bash and learn­ing to walk GI­ANT STEP: Bethany walks around fam­ily home

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