The Dorset-based family of a three-year-old boy, who was brought back to life at Bristol Children’s Hospital, is calling on families across the South West to donate to The Grand Appeal’s Emergency Department Appeal.

The appeal, which was launched by the Bristol Children’s Hospital Charity in July, is raising money to transform the emergency department, which treats over 40,000 children from across Bristol and beyond each year. The department is also home to the designated Major Trauma Centre for the South West, providing life-saving care to critically ill children from across the entire region.

The family of four, from Poole, knows just how important this service is to the South West after a horrific accident on a family holiday earlier this year. On a sunny morning in June, mum Nicki and dad Tim were chatting to the rest of their family about going paddle-boarding on the lake next to the cottage they were staying in. As they started to get the children suited up in their life jackets, they realised that their three year old son Zach was nowhere to be seen.

After 10 minutes of frantic searching, Tim heard his mum-in-law scream and ran towards her, only to see their little boy floating face down in the lake.

“He was so eager to go paddle-boarding, he had quietly wandered off without his armbands or lifejacket, and the absolute worst had happened. He had drowned, and we couldn’t find a pulse,” he recalls. “We were living every parent’s worst nightmare. I cannot describe the horror of watching my little boy unresponsive, with my family desperately trying to resuscitate him in the hope of bringing him back to life. After the longest 20 minutes of my life, a miracle happened and he had a faint heartbeat.”

Minutes later, Zach was flown to Bristol Children’s Hospital and his parents followed closely behind in an ambulance, leaving the rest of their family behind to look after their eldest son Toby. Zach was swiftly placed in an induced coma and was put onto a ventilator to try to stem any damage from the drowning. “It was all a blur, but we found ourselves desperately waiting in the emergency department where the doctors and nurses battled to stabilise our little boy in the resuscitation area,” says Tim. “The care, professionalism and warmth of the team was just incredible. While we still had no idea if Zach was going to be okay, it was immediately clear that he was in the best hands possible. The team did their best to comfort us, as we were just so distraught.”

After Zach was stabilised by the ED team, he was taken to the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). There, the family spent three days watching and waiting for Zach to be strong enough to wake up and breathe on his own. “We still didn’t know if Zach would be brain damaged, so when he finally woke up and it became clear he was going to be okay, it was incredibly emotional for us all,” says Tim.

“In the weeks that followed, we spent every minute we could with our little boy in PICU. But at night, it was such a comfort to know Zach had his own nurse watching over him constantly. Zach also had his own bedside phone, and we were able to speak to his nurse at any time throughout the night which gave us so much comfort. We formed such a close bond with the play therapists who played a huge part in Zach’s physical and emotional recovery, and visits from The Grand Appeal music therapists were the highlight of Zach’s day. He’s even asked Santa for a ukulele this Christmas!

“It was the small touches like this, alongside the level of care and compassion for us all that made us realise just how special Bristol Children’s Hospital really is.”

It soon became clear that Zach had suffered no long-term brain damage, thanks to the CPR given to him by his family, and the immediate care he received from the major trauma team.

Dr Giles Haythornthwaite, major trauma lead and emergency department consultant, said: “In a tragic accident like Zach’s, one of the main concerns is whether or not there is any long-term damage from a lack of oxygen to the brain. While Zach’s recovery is remarkable, the family played a critical part in giving him CPR until the air ambulance arrived. I truly believe that this basic life support was lifesaving and would encourage all families to learn the basics of CPR. It could save the lives of the ones you love.”

After two long weeks, Zach was finally well enough to head back home to overjoyed big brother Toby. For Nicki and Tim, it was extremely emotional returning home but counselling support from the hospital had prepared them for this, following such a traumatic time.

Zach is now a happy and healthy three year old, and the family is calling on others across the whole of the South West to donate to The Grand Appeal’s Emergency Department Appeal. We never, ever thought that we would be in such a horrendous situation, but we are thankful every day for the dedication and kindness of every single individual that cared for Zach at Bristol Children’s Hospital,” they told us. “Living so far from Bristol, we never thought we would ever find ourselves there, and I don’t think families living in Cornwall, Dorset and Devon like us know just how lucky they are to have a leading major trauma centre in the region. Please donate to the Emergency Department Appeal, as you never know when you will need the hospital’s services. We did, and they saved our son’s life.”