YOUNGEST STROKE VICTIM’S FIRST STEPS
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