Dressed in a red tee and blue shorts, Aidan was outside in the street playing football with a bunch of his friends. It was the weekend and my eight-year-old son had been out since three in the afternoon. Now it was time to get him and his six-year-old sister Ashleigh to bed.
‘Time to head home, Aidan,’ I called out.
‘In 10 minutes, Mum,’ he promised.
A huge lover of football, he had even had a go at trials with the Chelsea squad and the previous weekend he’d played in a local football tournament.
Ten minutes later, he was home and I could hear him practising some football tricks in the playroom. ‘Come on Aidan, I’ve run a bath for you,’ I shouted out.
As he headed towards the stairs, I heard him say: ‘Mum, I need my inhaler.’ I’d taught him to use it himself, but the inhaler was in his room. ‘OK, wait there a minute and I’ll get it,’ I said.
Aidan had been having chest congestions and asthma since he was a baby. He was on medication and was regularly in and out of clinics due to his breathing condition. In fact since he was a baby he had been admitted to hospital no less than 18 times.
Aidan was still in the playroom when I ran downstairs, inhaler in hand. But as I popped it in his mouth, he said: ‘I… need the… nebuliser,’ before collapsing. Although he’d had asthma attacks before, this was the first time he had collapsed and I was completely taken aback.
I held him in my arms and saw his eyes glaze over. ‘Aidan, Aidan,’ I began to shout out to him, but his eyes slowly closed and his head began to loll.
Within seconds, his lips began to turn blue. ‘Andrew, dial 999!’ I shouted to my husband, who was downstairs. Panic thumped through me, but I forced myself to be calm.
I could hear Andrew speaking on the phone and then heard him race up the stairs. I kept calling out to Aidan desperately as Andrew, 43, a telephone engineer, knelt next to me on the floor.
‘He’s not breathing,’ Andrew said, trying hard to stay calm. ‘He needs CPR.’
We quickly laid Aidan on the floor and Andrew started to perform CPR on him. Aidan briefly came to, then vomited what looked like bile and fluid, and seconds later was out cold again.
I felt faint with fear and panic and couldn’t think of what to do. Luckily, in about a minute after the call to the emergency operator, a first response car who happened to be in the area arrived before the ambulance. A first-aid trained fireman immediately started helping Andrew with CPR.
Both Ashleigh and I trembled, terrified, as we watched him try to bring Aidan around. ‘Will he be fine?’ I kept asking. But he was too busy trying to save our son to answer.
The paramedics arrived a few minutes later and the first thing they did was try to get a tube down Aidan’s throat to get him breathing and get his lungs to open up. ‘His lungs have gone into spasm as a result of the asthma attack,’ they said. ‘They are as hard as concrete, which makes it hard to get the breathing tube inside his lungs.’
I started sobbing as I saw my son almost lifeless, and seeing the state of stress I was in, a paramedic suggested that Ashleigh and I remain in the bedroom so we wouldn’t have to see them working on Aidan.
In the bedroom, I overheard one of the paramedics say that time was running out. ‘We have to get him to breathe or his brain would starve of oxygen and start shutting down his vital organs,’ he said.
By now there were nine paramedics at the scene and four police officers who had accompanied them. While the paramedics worked on Aidan, the officers were with us offering us support. Although there was an ambulance outside, they said it was too dangerous to move him. They needed to give him urgent medical attention, which wouldn’t be possible if they were on the road. They had to act immediately.
‘We’re going to try operating on Aidan to get oxygen to his brain,’ one of them told us. ‘We’re going to set up a mini operating theatre in the living room.’
‘Please, I want to see Aidan,’ I said. ‘I want to know how he is.’ I couldn’t believe this was happening. Just 10 minutes ago, he was running and playing and now he was lying on the floor not breathing or responding.
The medics ran to the ambulance, set up a kind of platform in the living room, and lay Aidan on it. They injected him to put him into an induced coma even though he was not breathing. He was attached to a chest compression machine while they brought out what looked like a hand drill.
They would use it to drill into Aidan’s shoulder to get drugs and oxygen into his bone marrow, which would eventually reach his brain. ‘This is the best way to get the medication quickly into this body,’ they said.
I was ushered into the playroom along with Ashleigh and Andrew and told to wait there. I could hear the drill whirring and prayed as I waited, pacing up and down. Ashleigh, who does not have the condition, was crying and being consoled by Andrew, who looked pale.
By now, Aidan was surrounded by medics and a neighbour, who saw the emergency services in the street, came over and offered to look after Ashleigh.
‘Is he going to be OK?’ we kept asking.
The stock answer was always the same: ‘We’re doing everything we can.’
‘Andrew, do you think we will lose our son,’ I asked, hugging my husband. ‘No, he will be fine,’ he said, struggling to stay positive. And after a harrowing 40 minutes, one of the paramedics came out.
‘He’s stabilised but he’s far from out of the woods yet,’ he said.
Preparations were being made to shift our son to Tunbridge Wells hospital, a 15-minute drive from home in Southborough.
I went with Aidan in the ambulance and Andrew followed in a police car. All this time Aidan was in an induced coma. I held his hand and kept willing him to get better. He was cold to the touch and his eyes were still closed. Seeing his pale face drained of all colour I began to cry again.
‘Do you think he’ll get better?’ I mumbled to the paramedic next to me.
‘His life is still in danger,’ he said.
Once at the hospital he was swiftly rushed to the emergency unit.
Three hours later, one of the doctors came out. ‘He’s critical,’ he said. ‘All we can do at this stage is try and make him as comfortable as possible.’ It was decided to transfer him by ambulance to Evelina London Children’s Hospital, where they had more specialist equipment and paediatric experts on hand to monitor his breathing.
Throughout the next day, Monday, he started to show signs of recovery. I was sitting outside with Andrew, hoping and praying. Aidan’s pulse rate stabilised and his vital statistics started looking better. Although still on a ventilator in intensive care, doctors could see that he was trying to breathe for himself, which was a good sign. By the evening, doctors began to bring him out of coma by gradually reducing the amount of drugs being piped into him. As this happened, they saw that Aidan was definitely able to breathe by himself. But the doctors had warned us that they weren’t sure if the lack of oxygen had caused any brain damage. ‘We’ll only be able to tell when he comes around,’ they had said.
I kept thinking of all the things he used to do – play football, laugh and chat with his friends, run around at home, cuddle up with me at night for a goodnight kiss… I kept praying he would be able to do all of that once he left the hospital.
Two days later, the doctors said we could go in and see him.
I’ll never forget the moment he opened his eyes and tried to speak. Andrew and I held on to his hands as he blinked his eyes open. He tried to talk but couldn’t because he still had tubes down his throat.
A nurse brought over an iPad to type a message. He typed: ‘I love you Mummy.’
I heaved the hugest sigh of relief.
For the first time I could see he was going to be OK. The doctors said it was a great sign too and an hour later, started to remove the tubes from his throat. Ashleigh wasn’t there when he came around; she was staying with Andrew’s parents, who live near to us.
As they removed the tubes, he gave me a thumbs up. I nearly burst with happiness. Minutes after that, he spoke his first words, this time turning to Andrew: ‘I love you Dad.’ We both started crying. Once the tubes were out, he began to get well quickly. He could talk and was taking food and looked a lot more cheerful.
We spent the following two days in hospital, during which time I read about a Saharan dust cloud that had swept over the UK the weekend of Aidan’s attack. I’m convinced that this freak weather condition is what triggered his asthma. I knew damp weather – or any sudden change in weather – caused Aidan to wheeze.
He was allowed home three days later. We traced the fireman and paramedics through a local press appeal to say thank-you. It turned out the fireman knew Aidan because his son used to go to the same nursery.
Aidan is still on the same medication but he now has a peak flow meter, a tube that he blows in, which measures his lung capacity. We now measure his peak flow every morning and evening. He should manage to blow 210, which is average for his height and weight. If it dips below 150, we up his dose of inhalers. If it dips below 100, he has to be taken to the hospital where they give him oxygen through a nebuliser.
I’m confident we can keep Aidan’s asthma under control with close monitoring – and hope such a severe attack never happens again. I’d like his story to show how asthma can kill – we need to keep on top of research into the condition as it’s so common.
Lynne Bungay is a hair stylist and lives in Southborough, UK. Visit www.asthma.org.uk for more information on the condition.