Hannah at the 2015 Family Fun Walk

Hannah Coombes made a very dramatic arrival in to the world in August 2002, born to two very shocked parents who had no idea that mum Cheryl was expecting until a few hours earlier. As Hannah was estimated to be around eight weeks premature, Cheryl and Peter barely had time to kiss her hello before she was taken off to the special care baby unit.

Hannah was clearly unwell but although doctors ran countless tests, they weren’t able make a diagnosis.   As the weeks wore on, doctors discovered more and more complications – from chest and cardiac problems and low muscle tone to global developmental delay and deafness.

Hannah as a baby in the Special Care Baby Unit
Hannah as a baby in the Special Care Baby Unit

But, despite also suffering a bleed on her brain which led to Hydrocephalies at ten weeks, little Hannah battled on and at three months old, Cheryl and Peter were able to take her home.

Cheryl says “Leaving the hospital was both exciting and scary because none of us knew what the prognosis was for Hannah. We still don’t have a name for what she has so now we just call it Hannah syndrome”.

Hannah was closely monitored by her local hospital but despite encountering many complications and setbacks, Hannah thrived, learning sign language and becoming a very enthusiastic member of her local school. But in December 2012 she developed a serious chest infection and had to be rushed to intensive care at the University Hospital for Wales by police escort.

Peter says: “Back then intensive care was divided in to a ward for adults and another one for children within the main hospital and arriving there for the first time was massively daunting for Cheryl and I.  The doctors prepared to anesthetise Hannah so that she could be put on a ventilator and seeing her sign “see you later” to me despite how poorly she was just tore my heart in two. We’d always been told that if Hannah ever needed ventilation she’d probably never come off it so we spent that Christmas Day just sitting at her bedside, staring at the machines and willing her to get well enough so that we could take her home again”

And, much to the complete surprise of her medical team, that’s exactly what Hannah did and by mid-January 2013 the family where at home celebrating a belated Christmas.

Hannah made a miraculous recovery again the following year after coming down with a chest infection so severe that scans showed no room left for air in her lungs. But, with sheer strength and determination, she pulled through again and in September 2015 Hannah and her family took part in the Noah’s Ark Charity Family Fun Walk.  Her wheelchair sported a sign which said “Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital for Wales saved my life twice –  thank you”.

Little did the family know however that Hannah was about to face her toughest battle yet.

Cheryl says: “What happened in March took us completely by surprise. Hannah’s had taken part in a sponsored mile on the Friday and was happy and well but by Saturday morning it was clear that she’d caught something and  was struggling to breathe and we knew she was in trouble.  We took her straight to Noah’s Ark and she was put straight on to a high pressure mask. For Hannah to accept a mask she has to be really ill so we knew straight away that something was really wrong.  She’s been ill many times before but this felt different.”

As well as an infection on her lungs, Hannah had developed a strain of flu which doctors said was serious enough to hospitalise a person who was otherwise completely well. Hannah was being given the maximum dose of antibiotics and was now on a ventilator but despite this, her condition continued to deteriorate.

Peter says: “Over the years, Hannah’s care team have become like friends to us and I’ll never forget the look on our consultants face when she came to tell us the results of Hannah’s chest X-Ray. She just said “I’m so sorry – it’s awful.” They explained that Hannah was at rock bottom and all that was left to do was watch and wait. We could see her little body struggling and I’d have done literally anything to take it from her and fight it instead but all we could do was stare at the screens for even the slightest glimmer of improvement. We’ve been told by Hannah’s doctors many times that she’s a little miracle so we just held out hope for another one.”

Over the Easter weekend, in true Hannah style, she started to fight back and from there on the speed of her recovery was certainly nothing short of miraculous. She started to breathe for herself, her temperature went down and within a few days she was taken off her ventilator and was sitting up in bed.   The first thing she did was sign ‘aeroplane’ to her parents.  Hannah was ready for a holiday and by May, she was well enough to go on the two week trip to Spain that the family had planned.

Hannah, a few days after coming off the ventilator
Hannah, a few days after coming off the ventilator

Peter says: “Hannah’s strength gives Cheryl and I strength. We fight for her and she fights even harder – for herself and for us. She amazes us every day with her sheer determination to live life to the full.   It’s her will to live and love and the care that she receives at Noah’s Ark which has got her through time after time.”

“Having a child with such a complicated medical condition is daunting, but we get 110% reassurance from knowing that everything Hannah needs, from the equipment and facilities to the incredible doctors, nurses and play specialists, is now there under one purpose built roof.  All the money and time in the world wouldn’t be enough to say thank you for Hannah, but helping the Noah’s Ark Charity to ensure that the hospital has what it needs to give kids like Hannah the best care possible is our little way of giving something back.  Because for us it’s simple – without the hospital we’d be without Hannah.”

Hannah will be taking part in the Noah’s Ark Family Fun Walk in Cardiff Bay again this September. This time the sign above her wheelchair will be thanking the hospital for saving her life not two, but three times.

If you’d like to join Hannah in raising money for the 73,000 who receive specialist and often life-saving treatment at the Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospital for Wales each year, click here.

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