Wearing a sparkly dress and her trademark Dr Martens, Lois Growse is thrilled to pose for pictures with her 18th birthday presents.
Her parents Angie and Gary look on proudly – after all, it’s a wonder that their daughter is here at all.
When Lois was a baby she nearly died after falling ill with a virus and it was Gary’s quick actions that saved her life.
With his daughter unconscious, Gary sprang into action, resuscitating Lois until paramedics arrived and took over.
Even then her life was hanging in the balance as she fought a severe lung infection and had to be rushed to Great Ormond Street Hospital while her parents had no idea if she would survive the journey.
Lois has severe learning difficulties, behavioural problems and cerebral palsy, and over the years the family have faced the toughest of challenges.
So her 18th is extra special and the family arranged a big party to mark the occasion.
‘We’re really proud because of what’s happened to her and all the difficulties she’s had,’ says Angie.
‘You can understand we’re so chuffed that she’s turned 18. We’ve had a lot of problems over the years but she’s still our angel and everything she does in life, every step she takes, makes us so happy.’
The Bedhampton teenager loves dressing up and having her photo taken and looks immaculate in her fashionable dress and the black boots she wears because of her walking difficulties.
For her party at the weekend, Lois wore a bright pink frock and matching boots (see pages 24 and 25 for her party pic with best pal Ben Knibbs).
Angie and Gary had a cake specially made. Decorated with Peter Pan characters, it also honoured Great Ormond Street Hospital which has a long association with the works of J M Barrie.
Lois and her parents spent an agonising time there as she battled serious infection bronchiolitis RSV after Gary’s resuscitation success.
Born prematurely, the couple had been thrilled to eventually bring Lois home just before Christmas in 1995.
On New Year’s Eve, Angie, Gary, Lois and her brother and sister, Lee and Louise, went to stay with Angie’s parents.
It was an exciting time because it was Lois’s first stay with her grandparents, but on New Year’s Day Angie discovered their daughter had stopped breathing.
Gary had been on a first aid course and knew what to do. He felt her heart, checked her breathing and then put his mouth over her nose and mouth and attempted to resuscitate her by breathing very gently.
He says: ‘Something just goes in your head and you just do what needs to be done. I am quite calm but I think anyone would do the same in those circumstances.’
But he was extremely thankful that he had taken a recommended first aid course when Lois was born and doctors said his quick reaction probably saved her life.
But the trauma didn’t end there. Gary and Angie still thought they would lose Lois as she was given intensive care in Portsmouth’s St Mary’s Hospital. Lois was on life support and her parents thought it might have to be switched off.
‘‘When I look back at it, I don’t know how we got through it, ‘says Angie. ‘You have to be so strong. You’ve had no sleep and you’re pacing up and down, every minute feels like 20 minutes and you’re thinking “I don’t want that machine switched off, I don’t want her put in my arms”.’
The most agonising moment was when Lois was taken to Great Ormond Street after doctors decided she could be treated on the specialist equipment that ultimately saved her life.
The tiny baby was rushed through thick fog to London and Gary and Angie were driven up by Angie’s parents with no idea if their daughter would be alive when they arrived.
‘The atmosphere was terrible. I was crying, there were so many emotions,’ recalls Angie. ‘And when we got there I felt sick. I didn’t want to know what had happened.’
Every day the couple have spent with their daughter since has been precious, even though life is sometimes tough.
Lois is a happy girl, loves music and enjoys going to the Mary Rose School in Portsmouth and CHAOS, a Havant centre for children and young adults with learning disabilities.
She has speech problems and communicates in a limited way with the help of Makaton sign language.
The teenager is also partially-sighted and suffers from violent attacks, which are stressful and exhausting.
‘It’s like something switches in her brain and she can’t help it. And then just as suddenly it will switch back and she’ll be calm but very upset. Then she says sorry,’ explains Angie.
But she is often calm, contented and happy and occasionally she simply has the sort of moods that remind her parents of any teenager.
‘She once said “get lost mum” and I had to try and stop laughing. You could really see her character coming through,’ says Angie,
The family receive support from Family Link, a programme run by Portsmouth City Council.
Lois has respite care every Sunday and has been going to the same couple – Julie Stewart and David Beasdale – every week.
They have become a big part of her life and she was even a bridesmaid at their daughter Amy’s wedding.
It’s moments like that which mean the world to Angie. ‘She’s got special needs and can be violent, but when she’s calm she’s our Lois. She hasn’t changed from being our little girl.’
FIRST AID COURSES
First aid advice changes and the NHS gives up-to-date information for resuscitating children and babies on its website.
But it recommends that every parent goes on a first aid course because it makes the process much easier to understand and remember.
For information visit nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/resuscitating-a-baby.
Visitors to the site can find a link to British Red Cross training courses in their area.
The organisation offers training in first aid for adults and first aid for babies and children.
There are also bespoke courses available for groups who require training more specific to their needs. Visit redcrossfirstaidtraining.co.uk or call 0845 004 4830.