A long way from home

When David Laughlin was just one day old, he was rushed by air ambulance to Birmingham Children's Hospital from south-west Scotland for a life-saving procedure.

For David, who is now nine, suffers from hypoplastic left heart syndrome, which means the left side of his heart is severely under-developed.

Since then, his parents Serena and David Snr have travelled regularly to Birmingham from their home in Newton Stewart, near Dumfries, for his heart surgery, outpatient appointments and check-ups.

Sometimes his parents have stayed overnight – or for several nights – while David has undergone different procedures.

At other times, they've driven the 270-mile journey to the hospital for a morning appointment and returned home on the same day – a total motoring time of about 13 hours.

The couple, who also have four daughters, Siobhan, aged 10; Iona, seven; five-year-old Aivah and 20-month-old Macy, say that although the journeys can be long and tiresome, they accept the need to make the trips because their son is getting the treatment he needs.

David has undergone four major operations at Birmingham Children's Hospital, the first when he was three days old, as well as four cardiac catheter procedures and other surgery such as valve repair treatment.

For a few years, David was having to travel from Scotland every three months to receive check-ups as an outpatient, but that has since been reduced to every six months.

"We have 100 per cent faith in them here," says Serena. "We could have gone to a different hospital nearer home, but David knows them here, has had all his procedures here and we are confident he is getting the best care."

David Snr, who is classified as the main carer, says his son has never complained about the arduous journeys and constant treatment, although he himself has often found spending hours on the ward difficult.

"It's something we have come to accept," he explains. "We come down here and David never complains, but I do find it hard."

He spends his time playing with David on the ward, while Serena tries to take breaks by taking Macy for a walk into the city.

Serena says their three older daughters stay with her mother when they have to come down to Birmingham.

"It was fine when they were very little, but it's getting harder as they have got older. We've not been away from home for a few days for a while, but they were crying when we left this time because they miss us so much. I don't know if it's because they understand more now they are older."

The couple and Macy stay either in Ronald McDonald House or in parents' accommodation within the hospital if there is availability. Otherwise they have to stay in local hotels.

It can make it an expensive business for the couple, who receive about £72 in travel expenses to cover petrol costs for a journey that costs well over £100.

Nevertheless, the couple have nothing but praise for the staff at Birmingham Children's Hospital for their pastoral care. This was especially the case when David senior broke down in the hospital, the culmination of a series of events.

"There was a time when I got really upset and basically shut down and the nurses were brilliant, making sure I was okay and getting me the help I needed," he recalls. "They are always the same, though. They look after the whole family."

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