Scarlett's second chance: Brain damaged baby who survived against the odds battles to come home
PUBLISHED: 06:30 24 August 2018 | UPDATED: 09:58 18 September 2018
A Norwich baby has been given a second chance at life after her parents were forced to make the heartbreaking decision over whether to continue her care.
Little Scarlett Dunnett, who is now 10 months old, was born in October last year, two months early.
Her unexpected arrival was a shock for parents Luke Dunnett and Tara Purdy, who were under the impression Scarlett was healthy.
But when Miss Purdy, 28, felt contractions at 3am on October 20, she knew something was not right.
She said: “When we arrived at the hospital I was told Scarlett’s heart rate was dangerously low and was taken for an emergency C-section.
“As soon as Scarlett was delivered we knew something was wrong she wasn’t crying and doctors were rushing in and out of the room, after 20 anxious minutes we heard a cry and Scarlett was brought to us for a quick glimpse before being rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit.”
Miss Purdy said it “felt like an eternity” as medics tried to figure out what was wrong with the tot.
“Finally I was able to go and see my precious baby girl but nothing prepared me for what I was about to see,” Miss Purdy said. “Scarlett was so tiny only 3lb 8oz and doctors could not explain why Scarlett could not breathe for herself and had to be ventilated.”
After an operation five days later, doctors discovered Scarlett’s nasal passages had not developed properly and were blocked by bone.
Known as choanal atresia the condition affects one in 10,000 babies and means the infant cannot breathe, as for the first few months babies cannot breathe through their mouth.
“She used to look frightened as well, she used to fight against the ventilator quite a lot.”
A delicate procedure meant Scarlett’s surgeon was able to insert small tubes she could be fed through, but the youngster’s trials were not over.
Miss Purdy said: “Scarlett’s head was growing very rapidly and she would stop breathing for no apparent reason even whilst ventilated, numerous tests were done in these weeks and we found out Scarlett had hydrocephalus - a large blood clot in her brain meaning her brain could not drain excess fluid - two holes in her heart, colobomas in both her eyes - holes in the structure of the eye - complete deafness in her left ear and partial hearing loss in her right all leading to the diagnosis of charge syndrome.”
The syndrome, which is caused by a gene mutation, meant Scarlett would have to undergo a second operation in as many weeks, as she was whisked to Addenbroke’s in Cambridge to have a reservoir fitted to drain the fluid in her head.
But her head continued to grow and Scarlett was having seizures which her mother described as “terrifying”.
More surgeries followed to correct her airways and insert a shunt into Scarlett’s head.
The family had a scare when their youngest contracted septicaemia and they were told she would not survive.
But Miss Purdy said: “Our beautiful girl Scarlett pulled through.”
And finally on February 11 this year she was taken home to west Earlham.
“The next 12 weeks would be the most difficult but precious moments we would have with Scarlett being a family again with her three siblings things almost seemed to be going to well,” Miss Purdy said.
But on May 13 Scarlett again stopped breathing.
“It was all so sudden I called the ambulance whilst dad tried to resuscitate my lifeless child,” Miss Purdy said. “We managed to bring her around and when the ambulance arrived she was rushed back to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital where we found out her left lung had suddenly collapsed.”
Scarlett was transferred to St Mary’s Hospital in London where she got pneumonia.
Miss Purdy said she spent two weeks “being resuscitated and pumped full of antibiotics putting strain on her heart and causing her to swell”.
After another two weeks, Scarlett made a turnaround and started to improve so was ready to be transferred back to Norwich.
But disaster struck on the journey and as Miss Purdy and Mr Dunnett waited anxiously to meet Scarlett at home, they received what they described as “the worst phone call of [their] lives”.
Scarlett had suffered a cardiac arrest in the back of the ambulance and although a nurse had managed to stabilise her she was now critically ill at the Lister Hospital in Stevenage.
“She was nearly coming home and we kept waiting for her. It was devastating and I knew it was bad news. We rushed to the hospital and after all Scarlett had been through the last thing we expected to see was our beautiful girl laying there smiling at us, she’s such an amazing little fighter we could not believe it,” Miss Purdy said.
After a transfer back to Cambridge, and another cardiac arrest, doctors discovered Scarlett was severely brain damaged and her parents were asked to decide whether to continue treatment.
“After weeks of careful thoughts, meetings and opinions we all agreed that Scarlett deserves a second chance at life,” Miss Purdy said.
“It was absolutely heartbreaking to even have that said to us, but there would be no other decision for us, I know she might have a different quality of life but I can give her a good quality of life. If she laid there not moving, not smiling, it might be different but she recognises people - she smiles when her siblings visit - I think it would be unfair not to give her a second chance.”
Scarlett is still at Addenbroke’s but the family hope to bring her on December 10, just in time to spend a family Christmas with her siblings Kiera, 10, Connor, 8, and Jacob, 6.
“She has surpassed all expectations and is truly the happiest baby you would ever meet,” Miss Purdy added.
The family is now fundraising to help with the costs of bringing Scarlett home.
Miss Purdy said: “Since Scarlett was transferred to Addenbrooke’s our whole family has been separated, dad lives and works in Norwich, I stay with Scarlett in Cambridge and our three other children are living with there amazing auntie Amber.
“This alone and due to dad missing so much time off work has left us struggling to just get by, even having to sleep in our car in London just to be with Scarlett.
“We now have to move home on top of this as our current home is unsuitable for Scarlett’s needs and cannot move until we have cleared a lot of rent arrears accumulated this year.”
There will also be specialist equipment needed to look after Scarlett.
“Scarlett has severe damage to her brain we do not know if she will ever walk or talk. She cannot breathe for herself as her lungs are simply too weak and will come home fully ventilated with a 24/7 nursing team.
“We would love to be able to create Scarlett a special sensory room for when she comes home that will be safe, warm and most of all help her develop.
“We hope that in time Scarlett will improve and beat the odds of which she has done so many times.”
• To donate, visit www.gofundme.com/scarletts-second-chance