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Hastings baby who stopped breathing six times flown to London in just 24 minutes

Single mum Charlotte Donaldson was nursing her first child – five-day-old baby Scarlet – in her arms at home whilst getting breakfast when she noticed that her daughter’s skin was turning blue. In a state of panic she phoned her Mum and then dialled 999.

“I was asked if Scarlet was breathing which was hard to tell as her breaths were so shallow. It was terrifying,” says Charlotte.

She followed instructions – given to her over the phone – to give baby rescue breaths (limited mouth to mouth resuscitation) to Scarlet, who only weighed 5lb 9oz when she was born.

To Charlotte’s immense relief, an ambulance crew arrived at the house after the second breath (luckily they were in the area). Scarlet was given oxygen and almost immediately her breathing improved and she returned to a normal colour. Still in her pyjamas, Charlotte accompanied her daughter – who was now in a stable condition – in an ambulance to Conquest Hospital in Hastings, where Scarlet had been born by caesarean section five days before.While they were at the hospital and Scarlet was undergoing scans and x-rays she stopped breathing five more times. “She was rushed into the resuscitation ward. It was horrifyingly scary watching the doctors trying to stabilise her,” says Charlotte.

Eventually Scarlet was intubated and sedated and it was decided to transfer her to St George’s Hospital in London where there is a specialist Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) and she could get the urgent care she needed. The Children’s Air Ambulance was mobilised to fly from its base in Oxford to collect colleagues from the South Thames Retrieval Service (STRS) and fly them to Hastings to accompany Scarlet on the flight to London. In the meantime Charlotte’s mum had brought her a change of clothes and an overnight bag to the hospital and she was able to accompany her daughter on the helicopter.

“If she had to have gone on her own I would have been in panic mode. It was really wonderful to see how she was being taken care of and that she was OK.”

“I felt that Scarlet was in the best hands possible and was being taken to where she would get the best treatment possible. The helicopter was kitted out with all the latest high tech equipment and knowing she was receiving the same intensive care treatment in the helicopter as at the PICU, was a great comfort. This meant she was getting intensive care in the air.” All the teams that looked after her, including the air ambulance crew, were fantastic. They explained exactly what was going to happen and I felt safe,” she says.

It took the helicopter just 24 minutes to fly the 75 miles from Hastings to London. After three days of tests, doctors discovered that the cause of Scarlet’s apnoeas (temporary cessation of breathing) was a severe respiratory infection – coronavirus. She was treated for the infection, her breathing and feeding improved and after five days she was well enough to go back to the local hospital in Hastings by land ambulance – a journey which took just over two hours.

Again Charlotte travelled with her daughter. She says: “I couldn’t believe how quickly the Children’s Air Ambulance got us to London. Had the helicopter not been available, Scarlet may not have survived the transfer. I feel incredibly grateful that it exists and was available to help my daughter.” They stayed at The Conquest Hospital for two days to make sure that Scarlet was completely well before going back home. For peace of mind Charlotte was given a breathing monitor and, even though Scarlet’s lungs are perfectly healthy, she was put on the CONI Scheme – which provides monitoring and support from health visitors for the first three months of a baby’s life.

“Talking about what happened to Scarlet and what the Children’s Air Ambulance did for her feels like I’m doing something positive to spread the word about the amazing work the charity does and how it saves young lives,” says Charlotte.