In 2003, Wendy and Edward sold their family farm in Northern Ireland and purchased a farm just outside Glamis in Angus. They moved across with their three children – Lois, aged 5, Edward, 3, and Victoria, who was just a few weeks old. Then in 2005, they welcomed another addition to the family – Katie Anna.
Katie Anna weighed 10lb 8oz when she was born – a healthy baby. However, as the weeks progressed, Katie Anna started to be sick each time she was fed. “At this stage she was breast fed”, Wendy recalls. “I made the decision to change to formula, and realised that she was only taking one ounce at a time”.
Katie Anna’s Diagnosis
Katie Anna was seen by her GP and referred to Ninewells Hospital. At eleven weeks old, she weighed one pound less than her birth weight. A week later she was seen by a visiting paediatric cardiologist, and scans revealed that she had a congenital heart condition known as Tetralogy of Fallot.
Katie Anna was diagnosed with gastric reflux, and was started on a diet of high calorie milk fed through a nasogastric tube and a pump. “It was a very stressful time for us, especially as she got older and kept pulling the tube out”, Wendy remembers. “As a trained nurse myself it was very hard having to replace the tube when it’s your own”. Katie Anna’s big sister Lois was a great help, holding her for Wendy, allowing Wendy to pass the tube up her little nose and down into her stomach.
Katie Anna was in and out of Ninewells a few times, and then had her first visit to Yorkhill Hospital when she was nine months old for cardiac catheterisation. Wendy was able to stay with her on the ward on this occasion. A couple of months later, the family received a call from Yorkhill to say that Katie Anna’s heart operation would be in two weeks’ time. “I’d been waiting for this call, but when it finally came it was very emotional – especially telling the other children. I also had lots to organise, such as who was going to mind the children and the farm. My mum flew over from Northern Ireland, and some of my friends here helped too”.
Surgery in Glasgow
“On the Friday I drove down to Glasgow with Katie Anna, and we were admitted to Ward 5A. It was daunting. I’d never been in Glasgow before and had no knowledge of my surroundings, let alone the hospital. Then on Friday afternoon a lovely lady from Ronald McDonald House Glasgow came to speak to me and explained how the House worked.”
Next to the original Yorkhill House, there were several two-bedroom flats belonging to the Charity. Families could be accommodated here as well as the bedrooms in the House itself. It was one of these flats which Wendy found herself calling home for the next few days. “It was lovely – homely and peaceful”, Wendy recalls. The next day, Wendy’s sister-in-law flew over from Northern Ireland to Glasgow and was able to spend the day with Wendy at the flat. Wendy was even able to bring Katie Anna over to the flat too.
“That night as I said goodbye to Katie Anna I burst into tears – I think it just hit me that my daughter was going for surgery. I’d built up all these feelings inside and now they were flooding out. I was the strong one; I couldn’t let my family see how I was feeling. I remember the nurses asking me if I was okay. I said ‘I think I’ve needed this for a long time’. I walked back to the flat and had a good nights’ sleep, ready and stronger to face what lay ahead”.
“I felt much better the next morning and spent a lot of time on the ward with Katie Anna. I stayed with her that night and Edward stayed at the flat”. However, in the early hours of the morning, the nurses told Wendy there was a possibility that Katie Anna’s operation could be cancelled due to an emergency admission. This was confirmed the next morning: the surgeon apologised, but Katie Anna’s operation was not going ahead due to these unforeseen circumstances. “I wasn’t cross about it – I just felt someone else was in greater need than Katie Anna”, Wendy remembers.
“Up the road we headed. Two weeks later she was readmitted to ward 5A on the Sunday, prior to surgery on the Monday. Due to our recent previous admission there was not a lot of preparation required. The lovely lady from Ronald McDonald House came to see me again. She said that we would get the keys to the flat the next day – I was going back to the flat I stayed in before”.
The next morning, it was finally time for Katie Anna’s surgery. With only one parent allowed in the anaesthetic room, Wendy stayed with her. “I’ll never forget holding her face mask and her drifting off. All sorts of things go through your head”.
An anxious wait
“My husband and I just cried, but we had each other. We collected the keys to the flat and left our things there. Someone advised us that it’s better to step away from the hospital. They had given us a buzzer to let us know when Katie Anna was out of theatre”. Wendy remembers how they switched off their phones and went to a local shopping centre to people watch. At 3.20pm the buzzer went. They rang the ward, who told them she was out of theatre and in ICU. “We were relieved and anxious. Back at the hospital in the waiting room, I got chatting to another parent whose wee boy was only three weeks old and had just had his first open heart surgery. Little did I know that this parent was the one sharing the flat with me – Sharyn was her name”.
When Wendy and Edward were allowed in to see Katie Anna, they cried tears of delight that she was through her operation. “Despite all the machines and wires, we saw past that and saw our beautiful baby. She was comfortable.”
Home away from home in Glasgow
Wendy and Edward both stayed at the flat that night, with lots of phone calls made and answered as family and friends anxiously checked in for news. “We were both mentally and physically exhausted, so having somewhere like home to go to made all the difference. Edward woke at 5am and went straight to ICU – he told me later that he was worried in case her heart wouldn’t kick in when she was taken off the ventilator. The nurse reassured him that she was a fighter, and that they had had to drive some of the tubes during the night as she kept pulling them out. What a relief.”
Edward headed back to the couple’s other children and to the farm, and Wendy stayed down at the flat. Accommodation at the Ronald McDonald House Glasgow flat meant that Wendy could spend time with visitors too. Wendy remembers how her nursing friends who she had trained with had planned a surprise visit to see her. “I was able to meet them in Glasgow for lunch, and then take to see Katie Anna on the ward. Katie Anna continued to thrive and my mother-in-law and sister-in-law flew over to visit too. It was great that we could all go to the flat and enjoy time with each other.”
Katie Anna is thriving!
Katie Anna was discharged on Sunday, just 6 days after her surgery. All these years later, Katie Anna is a happy and content girl, leading an active life and working hard at school. “As a family we are all very proud of her. She lets nothing stand in her way: football, highland dancing, netball, playing trombone in the local brass band!” When Katie Anna was 11 years old she had 10 inches cut off her hair, raising £1,000 for Ronald McDonald House Glasgow and donating her hair to The Little Princess Trust. And Wendy still keeps in touch with Sharyn, with the families even meeting up while on holiday in Cyprus in 2019!
“I’m not sure his we would have coped in Glasgow if it had not been for Ronald McDonald House Glasgow. I’d never heard of this charity before, but it does some fabulous work for those who need it.”
Families travel to Glasgow from near and far for the specialist care provided by the Royal Hospital for Children. By making a donation to Ronald McDonald House Glasgow today, you can help to give them a ‘home away from home’ a few minutes away from the hospital wards. Thank you for your support.Back to Stories