Stephen and Amy Smith became parents for the fourth time on December 17, 2014. Their daughter, Poppy, was born at 29-weeks-gestation and weighed only two pounds.
Poppy spent the first three months of her life in the neonatal ward, where doctors warned her development could be delayed.
They said she may never learn to walk or talk normally but the baby girl was a fighter.
Poppy was diagnosed with Moebius syndrome, which means her face muscles don’t work properly. When she eats, she often dribbles her food, but she was otherwise a primarily healthy child.
The Smiths were happy to surprise her doctors, each of whom was pleased with the little girl’s progress – until one December night, mere days from her second birthday.
Amy went to wake her daughter from a nap but little Poppy couldn’t be roused.
Frightened, Amy called Stephen. They could feel her heart beating but she was entirely unresponsive.
“She was breathing,” Stephen told The Sun, “but she was sort of gasping for air.”
The Smiths rushed Poppy to Barrow In Furness General Hospital, where doctors attempted to stabilize her. They then sent the baby to Liverpool’s Alder Hey Children’s Hospital.
Two days later, the Smiths celebrated Poppy’s second birthday at the hospital but noticed something was very wrong with their daughter.
“Her eyes were starting to roll to the back of her head,” Stephen shared. “A chest x-ray showed that her lungs were full of fluid and she had another respiratory arrest. That night she started to develop twitches and seizures. She was deteriorating fast.”
An MRI was conducted and the results were devastating.
“When she came back from the scan, doctors took us into a side room and said she had severe hypoxic brain damage,” Stephen explained. “I asked if she was going to walk or talk again, but they said they didn’t even know if she was going to survive.
“When it started to sink in, it was heart-breaking. They told us we had to wait and see, but it wasn’t looking good. I just wanted them to tell me that she was going to be OK.”
Poppy was unresponsive but, thankfully, breathing on her own.
“She couldn’t feel anything and wasn’t responding to a [flashlight] being shone in her eyes,” Stephen described. “We held her, but she was just staring right through us. I’ve never felt pain like that in my life. The heartache was unreal.”
That Christmas, the Smiths gathered their other children, 11-year-old Alfie, twelve-year-old Macey and 14-year-old Elisha. They decided to celebrate Christmas at the hospital with Poppy, as it could be her last.
“We went to midnight mass on Christmas Eve and lit candles for her,” Stephen explained. “I asked the priest if he could come and give her a blessing.”
On Christmas day, Poppy was moved to a High Dependency Unit, where the family went to spend time with her. The Smith parents tried to encourage their children to celebrate as best they could but quietly worried Poppy wouldn’t survive to see the next holiday.
Then Macey blew a raspberry on Poppy’s tiny tummy – and Poppy laughed.
“That was the amazing moment when she laughed,” Stephen recalled. “…It was astonishing. We found out afterwards that it wasn’t uncommon for people in this state to show emotion, but to us it seemed like she was responding.
“Then there were little twitches on her arms and legs. Doctors said it could be spinal reflexes, but I felt like it was so much more.”
“We couldn’t believe it,” Stephen stated. “It’s been just eight weeks. It’s incredible. She’s progressed so much. The doctors are baffled. They say that she shouldn’t be doing what she is doing. They are so glad she is, but they didn’t think she would. She’s proving them all wrong.”
As Poppy’s health continues to improve but her family is struggling to finance the monetary cost of her care.
“We want to get more physio for her earlier rather than later, because we think the sooner we do, the more of her mobility we can save,” Stephen explained.
“We are hoping that having it every day will help to improve her mobility. She is still a little bit shaky, but I think she will be able to walk on her own and she’s already come so far.”
“We just want to raise money to try and get her a bit more help and we don’t want to waste any time,” Stephen added. The campaign has raised over half its goal this month and Poppy continues to grow stronger.
By Monique Crawford