His mum Julie recalls: “He was vomiting a lot through the night and I thought he might need to go to hospital and be rehydrated. He seemed to settle but then he was sick again and had what we now know to have been a seizure.
“He wasn’t moving or responding. I thought he was just drowsy at first but then I realised he was unconscious. I was really scared and so we took him to the Emergency Department at Sheffield Children’s Hospital.”
Within 30 minutes, the crash team - a team of multidisciplinary healthcare professionals from across the hospital who treat patients in life-threatening emergencies - were treating Sam.
Julie continues: “I hadn’t noticed the crash team had arrived. I was just stroking his head and telling him it would be okay, even though I didn’t know that it would be. The doctors explained to us it was necessary as his heart rate was dropping.
“I watched his heart rate fall on the monitor and that was the first point I realised we may lose him. It was so scary knowing that it could happen, that he was so vulnerable. I still get upset thinking about that moment.
“The feeling of relief when his heart rate stabilised was incredible and seeing how calm the emergency department staff were helped me stay calm too.”
Sam then underwent a CT scan which showed a build-up of fluid on the brain. Just minutes later, he was undergoing emergency surgery to relieve the pressure.
From the scan, clinicians were able to infer a diagnosis of aqueductal stenosis. The condition occurs when the long, narrow passageway between the third and the fourth ventricles of the brain is narrowed or blocked.
Fluid accumulates upstream of the obstruction, called hydrocephalus. Following the surgery, Sam was then transferred to the intensive care unit, placed on a ventilator and sedated.
“They were very positive about the chances of treatment working but it was still unclear whether Sam had suffered any brain damage, so they kept him sedated to allow the brain to recuperate.”
Sam then underwent an MRI which confirmed the diagnosis and showed that there were two benign arachnoid cysts which had caused another blockage.
Sam was then moved onto the high dependency unit and then onto the dedicated neurosciences ward where he remained for the rest of his stay at Sheffield Children’s.
Julie adds: “Given the fact we had worried that Sam wouldn’t survive, then were being prepared for the possibility that he might have suffered brain damage, the diagnosis itself was a relief. We knew what was wrong and the doctors knew what to do.”
Sam underwent a procedure known as an endoscopic third ventriculostomy. This is where instead of inserting a shunt, the surgeon makes a hole in the floor of your brain to allow the trapped liquid to escape to the brain’s surface, where it can be absorbed.
Sam’s dad James adds: “The quick thinking and skills of both the emergency department team and the neurosurgical team saved Sam’s life and prevented him from having any life-changing, long-term effects.
“As well as saving his life, the compassion and understanding of all the staff we encountered towards two terrified parents was incredible.
"Moments of kindness stick in my head – the doctor who noticed my terrified look when I heard the crash team being called and took the time to explain exactly why this was happening.
“The three emergency department staff who walked over to the other side of the hospital to ICU to see how Sam was getting on at the end of a 12-hour shift.
"The healthcare assistant who stood there without flinching, covered in Sam’s vomit, while she waited for someone to bring her new PPE gloves, reassuring him that everything was going to be okay.
“The theatre assistant who performed magic tricks for him when he was terrified waiting for his operation. There were so many moments like this and that they are doing all this in the middle of a pandemic is nothing short of astonishing.
“Every staff member we encountered, every single one, was wonderful. Our son is home, alive, the same child we’ve always known and loved. I don’t know whether I believe in miracles, but I do know that without Sheffield Children’s, that wouldn’t be the case.”
The Children’s Hospital Charity are currently raising money to transform the emergency department at Sheffield Children’s Hospital. It was built to see 32,000 children every year but now sees almost 57,000 every 12 months from across South Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Lincolnshire. Sam’s family have since raised more than £2,000 to the effort, by starting a fundraiser for dad James’ birthday on Facebook.
Mum Julie adds: “We are absolutely delighted to be able to pay Sheffield Children’s back in some small way for the wonderful care they provided us all. We have now seen first-hand how it can become a home for a time and we know many other parents have to stay for much longer and from much farther away.”
Dr Jane Terris, consultant in emergency medicine at Sheffield Children’s Hospital added: “We are delighted that Sam made such a good recovery and we send our very best wishes to him and his family.
“We are very proud of our emergency department team and to hear that Sam is doing so well is both rewarding and inspiring.”
To support The Children’s Hospital Charity’s appeal to build a new emergency department at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, visit: www.tchc.org.uk/donate.