Hannah was born on 2nd July 1999, Hemel Hempstead Hospital, a much longed for child for Julia.
However, it rapidly became apparent that she was having difficulties suckling and was diagnosed with a ‘TOF’ - a Tracheo Oesophageal Fistula, meaning the passage linking her throat to her stomach was blocked, and she also had a rare heart defect.
That evening she was rushed to Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital where, ironically, Julia has worked for many years in the Fundraising Department. The following day Hannah’s windpipe was operated on successfully.
The day before the op
She would need a further operation to repair her heart but this was delayed to allow her to grow stronger. Of the first few months of her life Julia says: "She was hard work because she choked constantly on saliva. But she was bright as a button. She crawled at five months." However, by ten months, Hannah's operation was urgent. "I couldn't dress her in blue, it matched her complexion."
On June 1st 2000 Hannah had an eight hour operation to repair a hole in the top of her heart, realign the main artery which straddled the hole and remove excess heart muscle.
One day later she had an internal blood surge and heart attack. "Because they resuscitated her I assumed she'd be fine," Julia recalls. "But when they weaned her off pain medicines, she was like an animal in agony."
BRAIN DAMAGE FOLLOWING SEVERE HEART ATTACK
A scan showed severe brain damage due to oxygen starvation following the heart attack. "Doctors said Hannah would never walk, talk or even swallow. She'd never recognise me. I was a total mess. I felt I'd taken my child into hospital and they'd given me another one back, yet I was expected to love this child the same."
"We are sorry, Mr and Mrs France, but Hannah's brain damage is so, so severe. You will need to accept that she will not be able to see or hear. She will effectively be one up from a vegetable, as you see her here now. We hope that with the right drug combination we might be able to make her comfortable - any questions?" - GOS (09/2000)
* Will she recognise us? No
* Will she eat or drink? No
* Will she walk or talk? No
* Will she smile or react? No
* Will she understand anything? No
* Will her life be shortened? Yes
About a month later, around her 1st birthday, whilst changing her nappy in hospital, Julia thought she saw Hannah smile. "I rushed to tell a doctor, he said it was wind." But two days later she did it again. "When she started, she didn't stop - the doctors agreed - 'Yes, she is smiling.' No-one can explain why. The brain scan was so bleak."
CHILDREN'S TRUST CENTRE, TADWORTH
In September Julia and Hannah moved to the Children's Trust centre in Tadworth, Surrey, where Hannah was put on a programme of intensive physiotherapy, speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and hydrotherapy. Julia received counselling.
After eight months, they returned home. "I can never thank the Children's Trust enough for what they did. The difference in her mentally was phenomenal. She's so responsive. My only complaint is that we don't have that level of back-up now. She only has physiotherapy once a week. To me, it makes sense to put the funding in now to help her achieve her potential."
THE SITUATION NOW
The Conductive Education programme has meant that in a short space of time she has demonstrated her learning to think through and carry out complicated processes - such as giving her mummy a kiss. This sounds such a small thing, but it is actually such an immense event that Julia knows the exact moment it first happened: 11.05am on 23 November 2002.
As Julia says, "She is no longer a bystander in her own life. She excitedly greets each new task in school and vocalises her enjoyment and engages others in play. I no longer have to be a mind-reader because she is clear in what she wants, and with every new level of understanding she achieves, she becomes more the little girl behind the cerebral palsy and that little girl deserves all the help she can get at this crucial stage in her life."
Over to Julia again: "The help she needs is at her current school. Not all children are appropriate for Conductive Education, but Hannah is and has proved it not only in her joy in her new found learning ability but in medical benefits and from a parental view. Her sudden love of life has given me back a certain amount of normality (such as sleep). Hannah's sociability enables me to watch her with others rather than me always having to instigate and facilitate and she can now communicate her choices as every child has the right to do."
"We are amazed at Hannah's unexpected leap in progress and therefore potential future - with continued intensive therapies we hope Hannah will be able to walk and talk, possibly to a point of independence" - GOS (01/2001)
"The Hannah that came to us in September 2000 is not the Hannah you see now. It is essential that her stimulation and therapies remain high to ensure that she continues to improve and does not regress in mobility and awareness" - Tadworth Court (02/2001)