Toddler Grace Westwood, who was fitted with the UK’s first mobile driving unit for her Berlin heart, visited Santa for the first time thanks to efforts from staff at Newcastle hospitals, and the team at Fenwick.
Two-year-old Grace Westwood from Birmingham, was surprised with her first trip to the department store’s Santa on the Roof grotto experience, made possible by the portable driving unit for her Berlin Heart, which was fitted in May earlier this year.
Since the unit has been fitted, parents Darren and Becci have been able to take Grace out and do something most families take for granted – take their beloved daughter out for a walk, Becci adds:
“It came as a surprise one day. They told us they were planning to take Grace to see Santa, we just broke down and cried. We’ve been able to go out to the park, have picnics – weather dependant – but this would be her first trip out of the hospital grounds since we have been on the unit and without the machine it just wouldn’t have been possible.”
Planning a visit out of the hospital, and in the middle of a pandemic, took meticulous planning, as consultant in paediatric cardiovascular intensive care medicine, Dr Emma Simpson, explains:
“We are always keen to push boundaries for our patients, and when our children’s physiotherapist, Karen Caulfield and nurse specialist, Claire McGraith, came to me with the idea to take Grace to visit Santa, at first I was worried about the risk. But we set to work on how we could make this happen.”
Over the weeks, in partnership with the staff at Fenwick, the teams started to make plans and explore in more detail how they could make the trip possible. This included looking at the environment, power supply, infection control, and who Grace would come into contact with.
Staff at Fenwick were treated as NHS staff and required full COVID-19 immunisation and to carry out lateral flow tests before the visit.
As Emma adds: “The staff at Fenwick bent over backwards to make sure we were able to make this very special visit for Grace and her family. Including closing the shop for a period of time to ease our worries of crowds, and allowing our teams to make extra cleaning requirements to meet infection control standards.”
In addition to these measures, transport for Grace had to be arranged so that if needed, she could receive urgent care, as Emma explains:
“NECTAR had got in touch with us to say that their off-duty staff had offered to help with the visit. The team decorated the ambulance with fairy lights pictures of Santa, and we all dressed in coordinated Christmas outfits – they really made the journey special.”
A whole family event, Grace’s older brother Josh, was also able to join Grace for his sister’s visit to Santa, an important milestone for the Westwood’s as Darren explains:
“Becci and Josh went last year to look at the Fenwick Christmas windows, but to be able to go to go into the grotto to see Santa as a family was really special. I thought because Grace hadn’t been outside of the hospital in an environment like that she’d be upset – but she loved every minute.
“The staff were amazing. We got to sit there as a family and have a bit of normality. We had a hot drink and a cake and watched them play together in the snow. We were given the freedom to do what you would normally do as a family.
“We would like to say a massive thank you to everyone who helped organise this magical time.”
Kieran McBride – Fenwick Newcastle store director: “Christmas is an incredibly special time for everyone at Fenwick. To be able to host Grace and her family and spread a little festive cheer was an absolute privilege for myself and the whole team. I think Santa was as excited to meet Grace, as Grace was to meet him as he’d heard so much about her and her inspirational story. We wish Grace, her family and the whole community a very merry Christmas.”
Grace’s trip to Fenwick’s was supported by the Children’s Heart Unit Fund and Newcastle Hospitals Charity.
Grace, who is currently on the urgent waiting list for a heart transplant after being diagnosed with cardiomyopathy in March 2020, is fitted with a Berlin heart which assists with the blood flow to the heart.
Currently, home to Grace is ward 23 at the Freeman Hospital where she is currently on the urgent waiting list for a heart transplant while parents Darren and Becci have moved from Birmingham to Newcastle, to spend as much time as possible with her.