Taking our CHD warrior abroad

I assumed that we'd be the family happy with staycations. With us living in Wales we have some of the best beaches on our doorstep and the kids are happy with Center Parcs holidays. But with Martha being switched to 6 monthly appointments in April - it was now or never!

Taking a medically complex child out of the country is a frightening concept, but here are the 5 things that we did which I think made a big difference to our holiday experience.

1) Fit to fly
One of the questions we asked Dr. Starling at the appointment was if it was safe for Martha to take a flight or if she would require oxygen. He explained that with Martha's heart defect* the drop to 15% oxygen in an aeroplane compared to 21% oxygen in room air would be negligible.

She wouldn't be able to go through the magnetic body scanner at airport security due to her pacemaker but as long as we carried her European Pacemaker Identity Card with us - we shouldn't encounter any problems. Dr. Starling had included a line explaining there were no contraindications to Martha taking a flight in his clinic letter from our April appointment. I took a copy of this letter with me on Holiday.

*please consult your primary healthcare team for guidance on the effects that a decrease in oxygen might have on your child.

2) Who we booked our Holiday with
I think the most worrying thought for us was "what if something happens to Matha while we are away". With neither Mark or myself able to speak more than the odd word in Spanish I don't know how we would have coped with a medical emergency abroad. My Mother renewed her passport so that she could join us if the worst should have happened. But coordinating the care for the older two and organising a way to get Martha back to the UK was something that I would not have been able to deal with.

We booked our holiday with a Travel Counsellor I worked with when she got married at my previous workplace. Once I knew what dates we could travel, she e-mailed me a handful of Hotel's for me to choose from. Once we found one we were happy with she took care of the entire booking. Dona was aware of Martha's condition and knowing that she could help us in the event of an emergency was a massive weight off my mind.

3) Travel Insurance
Many travelers wrongly assume that your travel insurance only covers you whilst you are on the actual holiday. The first thing I did once I'd paid the Holiday deposit was organised our travel insurance. It's so important to have this arranged as early as possible to cover you against any loss from a possible cancellation. But it's not just for Martha; any of us could have presented a reason why the Holiday had to be canceled and there was no way we could have afforded almost a £3000.00 loss for the sake of a policy which cost us less than £100.

4) Meet & Greet Parking
Mark really wasn't keen on this idea. He wasn't sure how he felt about leaving his car for someone else to drive it away and keep it safe for the week while we were away. But there was no way in hell I was driving around a car park at 3:30am trying to find our space and then face the walk with 3 children and 4 suitcases in the dark to the airport terminal. We ended up booking the official Manchester Airport Meet & Greet and it was fab. We parked up, unloaded our cases, gave them our car key and then walked into the airport terminal. It was worth every penny when on the way home, our car was waiting for us just across the road from the terminal exit.

5) Mobility Assistance & Airport Security
I hadn't thought about the distance from the terminal to the Gate until Dona asked if Martha would OK with the walk. She suggested booking Mobility Assistance. When we arrived at check-in they confirmed that they had a wheelchair reserved for Martha, but Mark really wasn't keen on the idea. He knew we had assistance pre-booked but the reality of pushing his daughter in a wheelchair hit him and he said he'd rather carry her through the airport on his shoulders. We were sent to the Assistance reception and they gave us lanyard which is a "no questions asked" sign to airport staff that the wearer requires help.

We were fast-tracked through security, which was a huge help when we needed to explain Martha's pacemaker and had to coax her through the scanner. She was a little freaked out that she wasn't going through the same machine as the rest of us, but Mark went through first and we each stood either side of her and talked her through it. This is the first time where Martha's condition has meant she's treated differently to us, and it was quite upsetting watching her try to understand why she wasn't going through the same way as the rest of us. Luckily, the security staff was just as amazing on the Spanish side when it was time to come home the following week.

 I hope you find these useful. Please let me know if you think I've left something out, it might come in handy for our next holiday.


NB: The above is not intended as medical advice, please consult your primary healthcare team for more specific information regarding your child's travel needs.

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