When baby Isabell arrived, she was doted on by her mum, dad and older brothers. But the poorly littl'un had various heart problems and would need surgery. The family feared each night they went to bed that Isabell wouldn't wake up in the morning. Now Kimberley Tipper, 26 from West Midlands shares her story...
Calling my partner Ian, now 38, he didn’t believe me at first…
‘I am pregnant,’ I laughed, jumping up and down with joy. ‘That’s brilliant!’ Ian said when it finally sunk in.
We’d been together for a year and had talked about kids from the start. I’d two boys – Dylan, then 3, and Oliver, 1, from a previous relationship – but we were thrilled to be expanding our family. Only, my pregnancy turned out to be tough…
I was utterly exhausted from the start – nothing like when I’d been carrying the boys. And I was extremely short of breath. ‘We’re going to check for blood clots on your lungs,’ a doctor finally said. Thankfully, I was OK, but they couldn’t explain it.
My only concern was our baby. And, at 20 weeks…
‘It’s a girl!’ the sonographer said. We were thrilled.
And, in June 2011, at 37 weeks gone, baby Isabell arrived weighing 5lb 9oz. ‘She’s beautiful,’ Ian said, holding her. But, looking at our newborn, she’d a slightly blue tinge to her skin…
‘Is she OK?’ I asked doctors, concerned. ‘She’s just cold,’ they said, putting her in a heated incubator and advising us to put more layers on her.
The following morning, we were discharged. Back home, the boys were thrilled to meet their baby sister. She was still off-colour though, and I knew something was wrong…
I went to the doctor and asked the health visitor, who said to take her back to the doctor – but the GP still told me ‘She’s fine, just cold’.
Then, at 6 weeks old, Isabell started projectile vomiting. I raced to the doctor, who listened to Isabell’s chest. ‘You need to get her straight to hospital,’ she said.
I clung to Isabell as we sped to hospital – Good Hope Hospital this time. ‘She’s got a problem with her heart,’ doctors said after tests. They gave Isabell oxygen and medication while they continued to investigate with ultrasounds.
She was diagnosed with four congenital heart conditions. ‘She has ventricular septal defect,’ a cardiologist told us. He explained it was a hole in the heart, but that she also had pulmonary stenosis – a narrowing of a valve in her heart, meaning it had to try harder to get oxygen around her body – plus right ventricular hypertrophy and an overriding aorta.
‘She’ll need open-heart surgery when she’s bigger,’ we were told. I burst into tears.
After, I didn’t leave Isabell’s side, learnt how to tube feed her. Poor mite needed a constant stream of oxygen, as there was a risk her heart could just give out.
Back home, two weeks later, Ian and I watched Isabell like a hawk. I hardly slept, terrified we’d lose her while she was asleep. Every time I gave her a kiss goodnight, I wondered if it might be the last.
Then, when she was 8 months old, Isabell went blue and floppy. ‘Call an ambulance!’ Ian said. We were rushed to Good Hope Hospital, before being transferred to Birmingham Children’s Hospital. ‘She needs surgery,’ we were told. I hated the thought of my baby being cut open, but if it helped her, we’d no choice.
On 28 February 2012, Isabell was in surgery for six hours as surgeons patched up some of the holes in her heart, fixed one of her chambers and temporarily repaired her pulmonary artery.
Afterwards, rushing to see her in the ICU, I wept. ‘So many tubes,’ I sobbed to Ian. ‘But look at her colour,’ he said. True… Isabell’s skin was a healthy, rosy pink for the first time in almost a year! She’d a huge scar snaking from her collarbone to her bellybutton, but it would fade.
The following day, our brave girl was smiling and, five days later, she was discharged. Dylan and Oliver were so happy to have her home!
The change in Isabell was remarkable, too. Within weeks she’d learnt to sit up, was mumbling to herself – and, finally, we were all able to get some proper sleep!
That June, we threw Isabell a huge 1st birthday party with friends, family and a bouncy castle. ‘We never knew if we’d see this day,’ I admitted honestly.
Over the years, Isabell had regular checkups and became a big sister to Scarlett in April 2013.
We still kept a close eye on Isabell, but she grew into a lovely, bubbly, thoughtful little girl. ‘I’m special,’ she’d say pointing at her scar. ‘I’ve got a string.’ Bless her, super proud of it, she teased her big brothers as they didn’t have one!
Unfortunately, her health is slowly deteriorating again as she needs more surgery to replace the pulmonary artery in her heart – it’s not pumping blood around her body properly.
But as you read this, Isabell’s about to turn 5, and we’re throwing her a big party. She loves Disney’s Frozen and is always wrapping her arms around me and Ian, telling us she loves us.
We’re truly grateful for each day we have as a family, and couldn’t be more proud of Isabell.