April 12, 2015 will forever be etched in Sophie Mei Lan’s mind – it’s the day her whole world fell apart.
The South Yorkshire mum was enjoying a day out with her two young daughters, toddler Jasmine and 11-week-old Arianna, when the unthinkable happened.
Her baby girl suddenly stopped breathing.
By the end of the day, Sophie and her fiance Chris Hale would be living a nightmare, faced with the possibility of losing the precious little girl they had welcomed to their family just weeks earlier.
Sophie, aged 27, recalled: “We were heading to a crafts session at Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield when I realised Arianna, who I was carrying in a sling, had gone slack against me.
“I pulled her out and she was grey and lifeless. She was unresponsive and blood was pouring out of her mouth and nose. I just panicked.”
The Sheffield mum screamed for help and then began performing CPR on her daughter as, nearby, three-year-old Jasmine looked on in horror. When paramedics arrived on the scene, they rushed the infant to Pinderfields Hospital.
Sophie said: “I had no concept of how long somebody can survive without taking a breath. Arianna had taken a couple of gasps in the ambulance but other than that, there was nothing, I honestly thought I’d lost her, I felt like my baby had just died in my arms.”
While doctors at the hospital fought to stabalise Arianna, tests were being carried out to try and work out what had caused her to stop breathing.
An initial theory was that Sophie had inadvertently smothered her daughter in her baby-sling.
“The idea that not only might I lose my child, but that it might be my fault, was almost too much to bear,” Sophie said, her eyes shining with tears.
Doctors managed to get Arianna breathing again on a ventilator, though she was clearly finding it hard work, and there were many scary moments still to come in the days ahead, as the cause behind her sudden illness remained a mystery. During that time, Sophie and Chris never left their baby’s side.
Sophie said: “Nobody could offer us the reassurance we wanted to hear – that she would live – and there were times my mind wandered to funeral arrangements.”
It was during one of these dark times that a nurse suggested Sophie, a BBC journalist, keep a diary of her experiences as a form of therapy.
“I’d cried so much there were no tears left,” Sophie said.
“At home, I’d been co-sleeping with both my girls and breastfeeding Ari, but here I was with neither girl by my side, my body still producing milk and I felt useless and scared.
“When the nurse suggested I keep a diary, I knew I couldn’t write down how I felt, it made it too real, but one day, as I waited in the family room for news, I pulled my phone out and began my video diary. It gave me something to focus on.”
Sophie has now turned these diary entries into a short film, which was released on BBC Raw this week.
And luckily, this is a story with a happy ending.
“Arianna is now home, she’s happy and she’s healthy,” grinned Sophie, cradling her now six-month-old in her arms.
“It turned out that she’d contracted flu and pneumonia and was suffering from septicaemia. Given everything that was going on in her young body, doctors think her immature brain just thought, ‘enough,’ and shut everything down. What’s scary is that her only symptom was a stuffy nose and I was totally unaware of how ill she was.
“When we first brought Ari home, my confidence had gone. I felt as though I couldn’t trust my motherly instincts anymore and it’s been a long – and ongoing – road to re-building that confidence.
“She’s been having regular check-ups since we got home as we wait to see if the time her brain was deprived of oxygen has had any effects, but so far she seems to be just fine so we’re really hopeful.
“It was ten nightmare days for us, from the first moment Arianna stopped breathing, and we watched in disbelief, and with such gratitude, as the wonderful staff at both Pinderfields and Leeds paediatric intensive care unit, where she was transferred, loved our little girl back to life for us. We can never thank them enough for what they’ve done.”
Sophie is now singing the praises of the NHS and its staff.
She said: “At no point in that horrific time did we have to worry about ‘can we afford that scan?’ or ‘can we afford that visit?’ Our daughter had tens of thousands of pounds worth of treatment and I’m so grateful that’s a burden we didn’t have on our shoulders along with everything else.
“Our NHS is fantastic and it’s something we’re all guilty of taking for granted until we need it and, suddenly, the best care available is right there for us. It’s something we absolutely must protect.”
And for Chris, aged 28, there is one more message he’d like people to hear.
He said: “Sophie’s quick actions, peforming CPR and keeping Ari going until the paramedics arrived, saved her life. I’d encourage every parent out there to enroll themselves in a first aid course. I geniunely hope it’ll be a waste of £30 for you, but it might just help save somebody’s life.”
In a heartfelt Facebook message, Stephen John Slack, Sophie’s dad, paid tribute to staff at Pinderfields and Leeds paediatric intensive care unit, revealing: “The support and kindness Arianna, Sophie and Chris were shown went above and beyond physical care; the busy doctor, for example, who insisted on writing a letter to Sophie praising her quick actions and confirming there was nothing she could have done to prevent this awful event happening. She wrote - ‘As a parent myself I know that in a few months’ time you will need this as a reminder when those doubts creep in.’
“There was the ICU nurse, unaware of Sophie’s presence in the room, who was stroking Arianna’s head, gently whispering words of encouragement in her ears when she was struggling to breathe even with the aid of the ventilator.
“The busy anaesthetist who returned to apologise if she had been brusque when she ushered a distressed Sophie and Chris from the room when she had needed to take urgent action to improve Arianna’s breathing. So many individuals doing all they could to keep one tiny baby alive. This is what truly defines humanity and civilisation – values still embodied within the embattled NHS.”