Ally Wheatley, 27, Wells, Somerset speaks out about the day her family's life changed forever...
I couldn’t get my head around what had just happened. It’d been a normal day. Just like every other normal day.
Except now, my 4-year-old son Dylan was being airlifted to Bristol Royal Hospital for Children. And me and my mum Sweetie were bombing up the A39 in a police car, my partner Roy, 41, following close behind.
Please be OK, please be OK…
I kept repeating what had happened in my head. As if it would make any difference.
Dylan had choked on a ham sandwich.
He ate them all the time. But this lunchtime, a bit of ham had got stuck in his throat.
‘You OK, pet?’ I’d asked him when he’d started coughing.
Then he’d begun clutching at his neck.
Realising what had happened, I’d flown into action – turned Dylan round to thump him on the back.
It didn’t work, so I pulled him onto the floor, started to do chest compressions and CPR.
I’d done it once before.
You see, Dylan had been born 11 weeks premature. He’d had some trouble breathing at first, so nurses had taught me basic CPR.
‘You’ll probably never have to use it,’ one of them had smiled.
But when Dylan was 11 weeks old, I’d been at home alone with him… he’d been asleep, and then suddenly he’d started to cough and splutter.
Quick as I could, I’d done everything the nurses had taught me, and called an ambulance.
And he’d survived.
We reckoned Dylan had been sick in his sleep. And then swallowed the vomit down the wrong way.
After that, I made sure I was always alert in case it happened again.
And now it had…
While compressing Dylan’s chest, I’d dialled 999. The first responders were with us in minutes.
By then I was desperate.
Dylan’s face was deep-blue and blood was coming out of his nose.
‘My son…’ I cried.
‘We’re doing everything we can,’ the paramedic replied. ‘You’ve already done so well.’
I had to leave Dylan in their hands.
When we got to the hospital, he was already in Resus. From there, he was taken straight to Intensive Care, where we were able to see him.
My little boy looked like he was sleeping. Except for all the wires and machines he was hooked up to.
‘Dylan’s on a ventilator,’ the doctor explained. ‘We need you to be prepared for the worst.’
It was all too much to take in. How had our world crumbled like this in just an instant? All because of a sandwich.
The doctor told us Dylan had been deprived of oxygen for 45 minutes. It was a miracle he was alive at all. And he needed round-the-clock care.
I stayed in Bristol, at the accommodation laid on for parents of sick little ones.
Every minute, I sat by Dylan’s side.
‘Don’t leave us,’ I urged him.
A week on, doctors decided to take Dylan off the ventilator.
He’d either start to breathe by himself or…
‘It doesn’t bear thinking about,’ I said. ‘He’s going to make it. He has to make it.’
I held my breath when the ventilator was switched off, took Roy’s hand…
I held onto the only thing we had. Hope.
My boy did it. He started to breathe!
But we still had a long road ahead.
Over the next few weeks, Dylan started to open his eyes.
Doctors had warned us that if he survived, he’d have been left with some brain damage.
An MRI scan showed how much.
‘Dylan has global hypoxia,’ the doctor said. ‘And quadriplegic cerebral palsy.’
‘You’ll have to tell us what that means,’ I said, terrified.
Basically, Dylan had lost the ability to speak, and his gross motor skills. The cerebral palsy, also caused by a lack of oxygen, meant he had no control of his limbs.
He would never have an independent life. He’d never have all the things I’d wanted him to have.
That was last year.
Our new life took time to sink in. I’m not even sure it has yet, to be honest.
Dylan’s still in hospital. I’ve been living in hospital accommodation more or less permanently ever since
There have been some improvements. Dylan’s learned how to communicate by blinking – he can choose an item, long blink for yes.
And he can sit up in a wheelchair. But he’s bedbound most of the time.
We’re really hoping he’ll be able to come home soon. We’ve been making renovations to the house so that it’s more manageable for him in his wheelchair.
But there’s so much more equipment we need for him to be comfortable. So we’ve been fundraising. We’ve had charity nights, darts competitions, raffles and concerts.
So far, we’ve made £6,500. We’ve been raising cash for the unit treating him, too.
I’m glad I knew how to do CPR, otherwise we might have lost Dylan. I’ve been told I did a good job and there’s nothing more I could have done, which does offer a small comfort.
We love Dylan, no matter what. But in a single moment, he was robbed of the life he deserved.
We’re struggling to come to terms with what we’ve all lost. But love will see us through. It has to.