Mathew Kappen was just 18 months old when he was struck down with an aggressive bacterial infection which left him with just a 2 per cent chance of survival.
Doctors on Great Ormond Street Hospital’s paediatric intensive care unit (PICU) feared the worst for him after he suffered two cardiac arrests, the first lasting six minutes, a period of time which can result in brain damage, the second, two.
Mathew was transferred to Great Ormond Street Hospital from the Royal Berkshire Hospital in August 2007 with pneumonia. He was initially sent to Victoria Ward, the renal unit at the hospital, but after being seen by Dr Sophie Skellett, a consultant intensivist, he was rushed straight to PICU.
“The decision to transfer Mathew to PICU was absolutely the right one”, says Mathew’s dad Jim, speaking for the first time. “Within about an hour he had gone from a crying baby to completely still, his hands and legs frozen in position. The only sign for us that he was still alive was the bleeping monitor at this bedside”.
“We were told that Mathew had Pneumococcal Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome, which had destroyed his red blood cells and left him with a build up of waste substances in his blood. The disease had also caused his kidneys to shut down.
“Because Mathew couldn’t pass urine his condition worsened as his body couldn’t get rid of excess fluid and waste. His lungs were badly damaged because of the pneumococcal infection, causing pneumonia and empyema (pus around the lungs). Mathew was put on to an oscillator, a powerful ventilator, to help with his breathing.”
After suffering the two cardiac arrests, and with soaring potassium levels in his blood, staff told Mathew’s parents that he was critically unwell and may not survive. They prayed for him and invited their friends and family to the hospital to see Mathew.
Dr Skellett recalls: “Mathew was the sickest a child could possibly be at that time. In the days that followed, we conducted a number of tests on his brain to monitor its electrical activity, and initially these were very worrying. Throughout this time his parents remained positive, and we always encouraged them to keep talking to Mathew in the hope he could subconsciously hear them.”
Jim says: “He was on the highest possible levels of support the hospital could offer him. We kept a constant beside vigil and played his favourite song, Manjadi, over and over that people at PICU started humming the tune. We joke now that we must have driven other parents mad! Mathew gradually began to show signs of improvement, his breathing stabilised and he had three chest drains to remove fluid from his lungs and cardiothoracic cavity.
“Still, when it came to him opening his eyes we were told not to necessarily expect the same boy we had known before, that after his cardiac arrests there was a chance he would have suffered neurological damage and may not recognise us.
“When he came round and called for his ‘Appa and Amma’ it was without doubt one of the best moments of my life.”
His condition improving, Mathew was moved back to Victoria ward, where he battled over the following weeks to overcome his renal problems through dialysis. He was also constantly monitored by GOSH’s cardiothoracic team.
There was a further setback when an x-ray revealed Mathew’s entire left lung had collapsed, moving his trachea and impacting on his right lung. Mathew was moved to Badger, a respiratory ward in the hospital, where he waited for surgery.
Chest tubes continually drained his chest while he waited for surgery, and Mathew remained on dialysis for his kidney problems. His mum and dad kept his spirits up by getting him a bike, which he was able to carry his chest drain suction tubes on, to cycle around the hospital and playground outside on.
Professor Martin Elliott, professor of cardiothoracic surgery, then performed a procedure on Mathew which freed the trapped air in his lungs and repositioned his trachea. After a further two months on Victoria ward on dialysis, and with his ‘Appa and Amma’ by his side, Mathew’s kidneys started working by themselves again.
He was referred back to his local hospital in October, where he remained feeding through a tube until he could eat normally by mouth again.
Dr Skellett says: “At Great Ormond Street Hospital we are all thrilled with how Mathew has recovered. Looking at him now, the adorable little chap he is, it is almost difficult to remember just how sick he was. It is wonderful when children who have been that sick survive and essentially return to normal. He was treated by a variety of the teams here and we’re so pleased to see he can do all of the things his friends do.”
Jim concludes: “Mathew is like any other three year old, running around and going to nursery. It is truly a miracle given everything we went through. We are so grateful to all the teams who helped Mathew at Great Ormond Street Hospital, their care saved his life. We gave his bike back to Badger ward, hopefully it will help other children and give them a lift when they need it. The staff were always honest with us, even in our darkest hours, and whenever we can we still pop in to see them.”
For further information please contact Hayley Dodman, Great Ormond Street Hospital press office, on 0207 239 3126 or email email@example.com
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