When Lisa and Ewen Goldsobel’s newborn twins caught bronchiolitis their lives hung in the balance. Caron Kemp hears their story – and happy ending.
Just 25 days after twins Brooke and Jacob Goldsobel were born, their lives hung in the balance after a serious but preventable illness left them struggling to breathe.
Pregnancy for Lisa Goldsobel, now 35, had not been easy. Four major chest infections, constant nosebleeds, severe pelvic pain and carpal tunnel syndrome had made carrying their twin babies a considerable challenge.
But when at 34 weeks she was rushed to Watford General Hospital with the classic symptoms of pre-eclampsia, it was nevertheless a shock.
Aware that the condition – characterised by high blood pressure, severe headaches and fluid retention – can lead to serious complications for both mother and child, Lisa underwent an emergency caesarean section at 34 weeks on 13 November 2011.
“Even having been told that our twins were on their way into the world, I was still in disbelief,” admits husband Ewen.
“Naively, I had believed we had five or six weeks to go but instead the moment became very fraught very quickly.
“The birth itself was very clinical and Lisa was only shown the twins over her shoulder before not seeing them for some 15 hours. They were put straight into the special baby care unit.”
Brooke was born first, weighing just 3lb 13oz and was soon followed by Jacob, weighing 3lb 11oz.
But it was far from the experience the first-time parents had anticipated.
“It certainly wasn’t the romantic moment we had in our minds,” recalls Ewen.
“Both of them were in incubators and I was totally torn between wanting to ensure Lisa was ok and wanting to be by their sides.”
And in the immediate aftermath, times continued to be tough.
“They were dealing with standard premature baby complications like digestion issues and needing to stabilise their sugar levels, but it felt very emotional and stressful,” admits helicopter pilot Ewen.
After just two weeks in intensive care the couple were able to leave hospital.
However, despite their elation at having Brooke and Jacob at their Carpenders Park home, the health of the newborns remained a concern.
“They both developed coughs and colds, which we were assured was normal baby business so we took it in our stride,” explains Ewen.
“Even our doctor just told us to keep them warm and hydrated, but didn’t seem too worried.”
But events soon took a dramatic turn for the worse.
“We’d been home from hospital 11 days and I took Brooke to burp her after a feed, but she suddenly turned blue.
“She was floppy and there was nothing there, so I had to try to revive her.” After managing to stimulate her breathing, the anxious couple rushed their daughter back to hospital, leaving Jacob with grandparents.
But Brooke’s lethargy increased and she refused to feed.
“Her condition deteriorated very quickly with her oxygen levels plummeting,” explains Ewen.
“Suddenly medical professionals poured into the room and they managed to stabilise her, but she was rushed to the high dependency unit. I kept reminding them that Jacob wasn’t well either and at that point they said it was time to bring him in, too.”
In the harrowing hours that followed, both Brooke and Jacob’s conditions were critical.
“There were wires and tubes and doctors everywhere. In an instant they went from having what we thought were coughs and colds to being in a resuscitation room. I remember Lisa saying to me in desperation that nothing was working.”
Brooke and Jacob were eventually diagnosed with bronchiolitis, a lower respiratory tract infection that most commonly affects babies and young children under a year old.
Early symptoms of the infection are similar to the common cold, such as a runny nose and cough, but symptoms can worsen to include fever, a dry and persistent cough, difficulty feeding and rapid or noisy breathing.
With insufficient facilities at Watford General Hospital – and no paediatric beds available anywhere in London – the twins were taken by ambulance to Southampton, where they spent 11 days in paediatric intensive care.
“None of it felt real,” admits Ewen. “We were living in this surreal bubble in the middle of a complete nightmare trying to make sense of it all. There are images imprinted on my brain that will never go, like watching them limp or having stopped breathing.”
It is only now their children are thriving that their determined parents are adamant other children should not suffer a similar fate.
“The ward our babies were on was nicknamed viral village,” recalls Ewen.“It was swarming with babies battling bronchiolitis.
“What makes no sense to us is that most cases of the illness are caused by the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), for which a vaccine exists but is not currently given to newborn babies.
We have all these vaccination programmes against the most damaging and horrific illnesses, but this seems to have slipped through the net.”
So now the couple, members of Edgware Reform Synagogue, have launched a campaign to have all babies born in the winter, when bronchiolitis is most prevalent, to receive or have access to the RSV vaccination.
Babies who are premature or have a heart or lung condition are highly susceptible to bronchiolitis owing to their lower energy reserves and are likely to become more ill.
“Ultimately, a vaccine is more economical than a lengthy hospital stay,” concludes Ewen. “If I manage to create a change in policy, it would be an amazing achievement and would help avoid more children become critically ill and potential fatalities.
“Our whole experience was shocking, terrifying, traumatic and emotionally scarring, but in reality we were really very lucky. The truth is we nearly lost them both, so for me this is just too important an issue and affects too many people to ignore it.”
• For more information and to sign the petition, visit www.change.org