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Grace – the Baby Who Defied the Odds in Her Fight for Survival

Published on: 18 Nov, 2022
Updated on: 18 Nov, 2022

Grace is now a happy, thriving six-year-old

By David Reading

The story of a little girl named Grace is a harrowing one but one that is ultimately inspirational. Her parents believe the fact that she is alive is nothing short of a miracle.

When Grace was born at the Royal Surrey, Guildford, her chances of survival were slim. As the newborn child was handed to her mother Karen, there was no sign of Grace moving or breathing. Karen’s worst nightmare began at that point.

Immediately Grace was given heart massage but the situation looked desperate. Eight minutes passed – a frighteningly long time for a newborn baby to survive with no heartbeat. It was almost time to acknowledge the position as hopeless and stop.

But Grace was a fighter. Unexpectedly, her heart began to beat. Grace was in an unquestionably poor condition and expected to die soon but she had a slim chance. Her brain needed to be protected as well as possible in case she made a miraculous recovery.

She was diagnosed with a severe case of Hypoxic Ischaemic Encephalopathy – a condition that occurs when the brain doesn’t receive enough oxygen or blood flow for a period of time. The condition has an alarmingly high mortality and morbidity rate. Many babies are left with severe disabilities.

But Grace survived. And today she is almost seven years old and a lively, creative, determined little girl.

Her story forms a key part of a candid memoir written by retired senior consultant Dr Charles Godden, who worked for 31 years as a paediatrician, 21 of them as a consultant in Guildford.

Dr Godden is forcefully outspoken about the flaws in the NHS. It was his experience in caring for baby Grace on that traumatic day just before Christmas 2015 that was the tipping point in his career, leading him to resign.

Author, Dr Charles Godden

His book, “Not in the Best of Health”, records a long career working with sick children. In it, he records his utter frustration at the waste and bureaucracy that, he says, have brought the NHS to its knees.

In his own words, he sought to expose “the in-fighting, the unvoiced tragedies and the many unseen triumphs that occur every day through the lens of paediatric carers struggling to save young lives.”

At each stage, the story is illustrated by the true cases he came across, some successful, many deeply saddening, and a few which were catastrophic in their consequences for children and their parents.

At times he and colleagues worked crushing hours. Eighty-hour shifts were not uncommon. The wave of young patients was relentless and it was a struggle to keep sane and the patients safe. Sick children completely filled the ward at any one time: one child perhaps failing to thrive, another with a febrile seizure, another with worsening cystic fibrosis. And there were even more distressing cases. Under such pressure, correct diagnoses were in danger of being missed – and inevitably they are missed, Dr Godden said.

On that night when Grace fought her battle to survive, Dr Godden felt let down with regard to the support he received.

“I found it increasingly difficult to provide a service that I could be proud of,” he said. “Gaps in staffing, at a time of ever increasingly complex health demands and unrealistic ‘efficiency savings’, meant services were dangerously stretched.”

The major issue was the pressure he was under while on call. “After Grace, I realised I had no protection. In some specialities such as paediatrics and neonates being on call is relentless and exhausting in a deteriorating service. One has ultimate responsibility and is likely to end up in court when inevitable mistakes are made. This is frightening.

“I tried various avenues to reduce the on-call burden for older consultants such as myself, but each time management shut their eyes and ears. As one grows older, past about fifty, being on call at night becomes more and more difficult for most.

“I realised that looking and feeling ten years older after every week of being on call wasn’t sustainable and I couldn’t see the NHS improving with the current hands on the tiller, and sadly I have been proved right. Too right.

“When you are in a bind, you have three options. Change it, learn to tolerate it or leave it. Only one option was left.”

Dr Godden’s main target for criticism is the politicians who, he feels, have let down the NHS.

“So much is wrong with the NHS,” he said.

“How can we run a service when, this year, over 50 per cent of consultant physician posts in the UK are left unfilled.

“Is it not clear that this means the posts are unattractive and have to be improved in order to get dedicated people back to look after us all?

“How can we run a service with over 50,000 nursing vacancies? If, as some claim, nurses are well paid, why aren’t they queuing up to work? Why are they leaving in their droves?

“Why does the Government always fall back on claiming that any increase in pay or any industrial action will hurt patients, when they know full well that the service has collapsed under their stewardship and they are to blame, not the staff, and that the only hope is to make a stance and wake the country up to the fact that the NHS and the attitude to those who work in the NHS has to change?

“How can we run a service with over seven million patients waiting to be seen and over 400,000 worried people waiting over a year for an appointment?”

He added: “We can’t have politicians putting the public and the public services at loggerheads.

“We have to give better respect to those working in the public sectors. Misrepresentations from the Government and misinterpretations by many journalists have led to profound misunderstandings of our roles, responsibilities and rewards.”

But Dr Godden also reflects on much that was positive during his career – including Grace’s story.

Grace spent 14 days fighting for her life. The follow-ups were daunting with: MRI scans, physiotherapy assessments, cognitive tests and much more.

She now lives with her parents Karen and Ryan O’Keeffe on the Surrey-Hampshire border, near Grayshott. She loves sports, running, swimming, bike riding, gymnastics and dancing.  Grace is also a singer in her school rock band.

Ryan has deep respect for Dr Godden. “Charles followed up Grace for three years and is now retired and a family friend. He says Grace is just a ‘tough nut’ – one in a million. If he believed in miracles then he said this would be one of them.

Karen and Ryan O’Keeffe on holiday in Ireland with their children Grace (left) Rory and Bonnie.

“Grace, our social butterfly, is thriving, happy and has become a dominant young girl – a force to be reckoned with. There are no signs of her poor start, and she enjoys everyday life as a six-year-old.  I am in awe of Grace each and every day.

“We are forever grateful for the treatment which saved her life, for the NHS and staff who worked endlessly to make sure that not only Grace was OK but us too. And finally it is Charles Godden who we cannot thank enough.”

The soft back edition of “Not in the Best of Health” is available on Amazon from November 20 and the hardback and E-book also on Amazon a week later, by November 27.

 

 

 

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