South Shields teenager spent four days in coma after suffering severe strokes following bone marrow transplant

By Katie Dickinson

A teenager spent four days in a coma after suffering severe strokes following a bone marrow transplant.

Vanessa Ezeh ended up on life support after complications during her recovery in hospital from the transplant.

The 17-year-old’s mum Bukie Adebola-Ezeh has opened up about the family’s traumatic ordeal as she backed a new survey illustrating how hard parents with a seriously ill child are finding life 18 months after the Covid-19 pandemic first hit.

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Mother-of-four Bukie, from South Shields, has two daughters with sickle cell anaemia.

Vanessa, her eldest, has the condition so severely that in February this year she required a bone marrow transplant, with her seven-year-old brother as the donor.

Due to complications during Vanessa’s recovery in hospital, she suffered severe strokes and was rushed into ICU and placed on life support to protect her brain function.

Bukie said: “During the pandemic it was incredibly hard. As a family we have been so scared of Covid coming into our home because it will kill our girls.

“Living in such fear was something we’d never experienced. My husband had to leave his job and I had to change my own work to online so that I could do it by Vanessa’s bedside when she was well enough.”

Things became harder for Bukie when Vanessa went to hospital for her bone marrow transplant.

She said: “I entered the hospital with Vanessa for her transplant on 25 February and I was there with her by her side until 17 May.

“In the transplant unit we were not allowed to see anyone except for my husband, who had to drive 20 minutes every day to the hospital to bring me food.

“For the first four weeks after her transplant I never left the room 24/7.

“I was unable to see my other children and it was so hard to show them any priority when I was living next to Vanessa and sleeping on a folding camp bed. I felt so isolated.”

Four weeks after the transplant, things became much worse when Vanessa suddenly couldn’t talk and started losing consciousness.

“Vanessa’s blood pressure was very high and doctors rushed her to ICU,” Bukie said.

“No one was expecting it and suddenly she was in a coma on life support.

“Doctors told me that they were trying to save Vanessa’s brain and I was able to call my husband and my sister to be with me. It was terrifying.

“For four days she was in the coma and on 13 April she finally opened her eyes.

“Three days later I was back on the transplant unit with her in strict isolation for another month before finally bringing her home.”

Bukie is one of the parents who took part in the Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity’s survey in August.

The results showed 62% of respondents said that their mental health was either worse or much worse than before the pandemic.

Families caring for a life-threatened child said they now feel more isolated (52%), more fearful (51%) and more exhausted (40%) due to the impact of the pandemic.

Bukie said: “I’ve heard people say that Covid brought people together, but not for us.

“Before Vanessa’s transplant we were locked in a house looking out at the world going past us. We couldn’t go to the park or out with friends.

“Unlike her siblings, Vanessa still can’t go back to school and she has not seen any of her friends since last year. It's been over 20 months since she last saw anyone her own age. “Now the world is dancing, drinking and having fun, but we can’t.”

Bukie and her family have been supported by the Rainbow Trust with a support worker, Sabrina, who visits them regularly. She is the only person outside their family who they allow into their home.

“Sabrina has been lifesaving, empowering and our light at the end of a tunnel,” Bukie said.

“Recently she took all the children out to the park and gave me precious time to myself – it was the first time I had been on my own for 18 months.

“For many minority families like mine accepting charity help is hard, especially during a pandemic and many are struggling.

“So many people say they are going to help families like mine but they don’t. To actually have someone helping us with no agenda and no judgement at such a difficult time has really been life changing.”

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