Ella McGuigan and her family experienced the work of Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance when she became poorly with severe earache at home. Her mum, Veronica, kindly shares their story with us all.

Ella with Leanne and Steve from DSAA

The date of 13th April 2020 is one that I will never forget. Even now, while writing this, I feel scared thinking about what could have happened and how things could have been so different. It was bank holiday, Easter Monday and Ella had been suffering with earache in her left ear for quite a few days. I gave her Calpol for the pain, but it did not seem to help.

I rang the doctors to try to be seen, but they prescribed some antibiotics over the telephone. The antibiotics did not appear to help and Ella’s earache became worse, so I contacted 111. They recommended further antibiotics, which we collected at our local pharmacy on the Easter Saturday. Both our doctor’s surgery and the 111 service told me that under no circumstances should we go to A&E. Obviously, this was during the COVID-19 pandemic and access to any form of medical assistance was more than extremely difficult.

By Easter Monday morning, Ella seemed better and was playing with us, however, by lunchtime she was crying in pain. That’s when I decided to take her to the doctors without telephoning first. We managed to get seen, however, upon examination, the doctor could not find an infection in either ear and she was sent home to continue with a different type of antibiotic.

The 999 call

Half an hour later, Ella was sat at the kitchen table with her lunch and really did not look well. She looked at me and as I walked over, she started to stand up. As we met, she collapsed in my arms and her eyes started rolling. I screamed for my husband Robert to call 999.

Ella was now on our kitchen floor. I remember calling her name, over and over. Her eyes were barely opening and she couldn’t speak, however she looked like she was trying to say ‘help me;’ it was awful and so unbelievably scary.

The first person that helped us so much was the 999 call-handler. He talked Robert through CPR, continuously helping him with the timings. He also gave us the location and code for our nearest defibrillator, however, he had to repeat the code so many times, as I was incapable of remembering it, given the situation that our family were in. I was so proud of our other daughter Anna who took control of remembering the code, before running around our local streets to locate it.

The arrival of help

By the time Anna had returned with the defibrillator, a BASICS doctor had arrived in a car. This was followed by an ambulance and the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance (DSAA) outreach car. Due to COVID, the clinicians had to dress into white overalls before entering the property. It seemed like this took a lifetime; I remember trying to hurry them up as Robert was becoming extremely tired performing CPR. Anna offered to take over as she knows how to do this, but not surprisingly, Robert did not want to stop.

The team then worked together to stabilise Ella with oxygen and monitoring, talking to her the whole time. They carried her outside into the ambulance as it was a safe and controlled place for them to continue their assessment and give her further medication as needed. At that point, the clinicians were helping her with her breathing; she was conscious, but not conscious enough to protect her own airway.

We knew that the DSAA helicopter had also been deployed, as we were asked about landing locations nearby. They landed on Parley Common, which, to this day, I find incredible, as it certainly isn’t level. At this stage we were in a state of utter shock. There seemed to be so many medical professionals helping us and it felt like the whole street was filled with people, ambulances and cars.

The trip to hospital

When the crew of the air ambulance arrived, Ella was safely being managed in the back of the ambulance. The critical care team assessed her further and decided that she needed intubating, as it wasn’t safe for her to be transported to hospital awake. She was therefore anaesthetised. It was also decided that they would take Ella to hospital by road, mainly because she was already in the ambulance, attached to all the monitoring equipment, safe and ready to go. Time was of the essence and she needed to get to Southampton Hospital as quickly and safely as possible. Robert went in the ambulance with her as I was in such a state; I was incapable of helping anyone.

When Ella arrived at hospital, she was sedated and being supported by the DSAA breathing machine. She had remained stable following her anaesthetic. She was taken to the Emergency Department Resuscitation Area and then to the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit. Once again, because of COVID, Robert was not allowed to be with her at that time, so he had to say goodbye when she entered the hospital. Robert then got a taxi home.

Needless to say, none of us slept that night. Robert returned to the hospital early the following morning. However unbeknown to us, once he entered the hospital, he was not allowed out and I was not allowed in, so we could not swap places. We understood and accepted the situation, as the safety of everyone within the hospital was of paramount importance.

Ella's diagnosis and recovery

Ella was under controlled sedation while the strong antibiotics that were given intravenously did their work. She was diagnosed with ‘mastoiditis,’ (a serious bacterial infection that affects the mastoid bone behind the ear), which if left untreated can cause serious, or even life-threatening complications. Apparently, when she collapsed at home, the infection triggered the brain in some way and caused her to have a fit. Ella was in Southampton Hospital for just over a week before coming home and being monitored daily by The Children’s Community Nursing Team at Poole Hospital. She continued receiving strong antibiotics via a cannula, every day for a week.

Jo Petheram, one of the patient and family liaison nurses from DSAA was amazing. She kept in touch with us throughout Ella’s time in hospital and during her recovery, making us feel involved and that there was always someone available for us to call. She was so supportive and ensured that we had every bit of information to hand when we needed it.

Ella McGuigan Fundraising

After Ella came home, I really wanted to thank everyone who played a part in helping us, however, given the number of people involved, I thought this would be impossible. Not surprisingly, Jo managed to do this, which enabled us to send every single person and each of the wards that Ella was on while in hospital, a very large ‘Moonpig’ card to say thank you. We also sent cards at Christmas time too and have subsequently raised funds for the charity.

Following her recovery, Ella and her family have been fundraising for DSAA.

Main banner image by: James Penberthy

The DSAA team that attended Ella’s incident were: Dave Thom, Jeremy Reid, Steve Westbrook, Michelle Walker and Mario Carretta. Also in attendance from the ambulance service were: Steve Watkinson, Kyle Duce, Jonathan Cash, Thomas Hull, Kevin Cooke, Simon Mumford and Katie Muscroft.

If you've been inspired by Ella and her family's story and would like to help us to continue saving lives, we would be grateful to receive your donation. No matter how big or small, every penny donated really will make a big difference! Thank you.

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NEXT: Keith and Mary's Story