"It gave us a place to be a normal family, at a time when nothing else felt normal"

At the age of four, Lexie was a normal little girl, enjoying all the things a four year old does. However, one morning when her mother Emma went to wake her up for school, something was wrong.

It appeared that Lexie was having a seizure. She was hyperventilating and unresponsive. There followed an emergency dash to intensive care at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. Emma grabbed her glasses as there was no time to even put in contact lenses. The family thought Lexie was just going for an MRI scan but they were soon told it was more serious; Lexie needed an operation.

The family, based in Northampton, were many miles from home. Whilst they waited for Lexie to recover, Emma’s husband went to stay with family in Oxford and Emma found a room in emergency accommodation. But Emma worried about where her three other children would stay.

Following the surgery Lexie was very poorly, and after spending a long time watching over her daughter, Emma called her husband, exhausted, saying she needed to switch shifts. ‘You come over’, she said. ’I will go and get some sleep.’ Like any mother, Emma did not want her daughter to be on her own when she was so ill.

At some point later in the day, a nurse suggested that Emma might like to freshen up at the Ronald McDonald House in Oxford. In a daze, she went. Emma felt such relief at having some privacy, to use the tissues on hand there, to see the gel and moisturiser, the towels. She broke down and cried; she was overwhelmed by the thoughtfulness of those that had made it look so welcoming for people like her. She was amazed. There had been no privacy in intensive care. Now she had somewhere to lock the door and break down, so she could be strong for her family and carry on.

Emma found it amazing to have people like the staff at Ronald McDonald House, who understood what she needed to feel human, such as being able to wash her clothes. The House even had a wheelie bag trolley that she could use to buy food and veg from the supermarket. The simple routines of eating breakfast and being able to make dinner meant so much to the family.

Lexie was in hospital for a couple of weeks which coincided with half term. She was out of intensive care and in the children’s ward and doing so much better. Although Emma’s other children were very supportive, they were missing mum and dad and, of course, missing Lexi. They came and stayed at half term which meant they could behave like a family. They could cook and eat together in the communal rooms at the Oxford House and chill out together as they would normally do at home.

Today, the family have to take regular trips to the Oxford hospital for Lexie’s treatment and though it can feel like a long way to travel from their current home in Wales, the family accept that the hospital is one of only four specialist craniofacial units in the country that can help Lexie.

Of Lexie, Emma says ‘Although she is doing very well, it is still a struggle. We are hoping she won’t need more surgery, but we don’t know.’ And of the Oxford House? She says simply, ‘I owe them part of my sanity.’

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