Hornchurch mum, 33, raises cash for charity after son’s life-threatening diaphragm condition CDH

Zach with mum Debbie (photo: Paul Bennett)

Zach with mum Debbie (photo: Paul Bennett) - Credit: Archant

CDH (congenital diaphragmatic hernia) is as common as cystic fibrosis, but few people have heard of it. Hornchurch mum Debbie Adshead told Ramzy Alwakeel about her son’s battle with the illness, and the moment he stopped breathing.

Zach with flyers for his fundraising birthday party

Zach with flyers for his fundraising birthday party - Credit: Archant

When Debbie Adshead was told her unborn baby had CDH, it just sounded like alphabet soup. “We were thinking, ‘C D what?’” she remembered.

Zach Adshead after his first operation, aged three days

Zach Adshead after his first operation, aged three days - Credit: Archant

A year later, as little Zach was rushed to hospital during a relapse, the condition was all too real.

Zach aged eight months in hospital after surgery to repair the hernia that had reopened

Zach aged eight months in hospital after surgery to repair the hernia that had reopened - Credit: Archant

“He stopped breathing at Queen’s Hospital,” she said. “He was lying on his back and he went all floppy.

“The doctor and I looked at each other and he said, ‘pick him up,’ and we ran to the resuscitation unit. Looking at him there I couldn’t quite believe it – I’d thought it was all behind us.”


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Zach was born with a congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH) – a hole in his diaphragm through which his bowel, stomach and liver had moved into his chest.

His heart was shifted to one side and one of his lungs was “almost non-existent” because of the reduced space it had to grow in utero.

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The condition affects one in every 2,500 babies and the odds of survival are low – one child in two won’t make it.

Zach underwent surgery aged three days, and recovered quickly. The tot went home with his nervous parents Debbie and David after three weeks.

Babies with CDH can remain in hospital for up to eight months.

“Every day we look at him, even when he’s being a monkey, and we’re just thankful he’s here,” said Debbie, 33.

But despite Zach’s quick progress, the nightmare began again when he was eight months old – the hole opened up a second time, leaving him doubled over and screaming and his parents in shock.

“The second time was probably worse than the first,” Debbie recalled. “Although it was traumatic when he was born, we knew what to expect as he was diagnosed while I was pregnant.

“But when he reherniated, we didn’t want to automatically assume the worst – we thought he’d got a bug.”

As Zach’s condition worsened and he went first to his GP and then to Queen’s Hospital, doctors confirmed the hernia was back – a rare occurrence, especially because Zach’s original operation had been straightforward.

The toddler’s heart rate was through the roof and he was breathing 120 times a minute. It was then that he lost consciousness.

Thankfully, medics managed to stabilise Zach, and he was transferred to King’s College Hospital, where the hole was located and stitched up.

And fortunately the damage to Zach’s intestine, which had partially unravelled on the wrong side of his diaphragm, wasn’t long-term.

Now, as healthy Zach approaches his third birthday, that hospital stay seems a long time ago – but it’s never out of Debbie’s mind.

So she’s decided to use his birthday party on June 22 to raise cash for two charities who helped Zach when he needed it – CDH UK, which supports families living with the condition, and the Children’s Acute Transport Service (Cats), the little-known charity that ferried Zach from Queen’s in Romford to King’s College in south London.

“The reason I chose Cats is I’d never heard of them until they played a part in saving Zach’s life,” explained Debbie. “I thought: ‘How many other people don’t know about them?’

“He was too poorly to travel in a normal ambulance once he had gone into intensive care. He wasn’t breathing for himself.

“They were fantastic – there were three very well trained medical staff just for him.”

Cats is part-funded by the NHS and relies on donations to keep going.

They and CDH UK will receive cash from a raffle Debbie’s holding at the party in Oak Glen, Hornchurch. She’s already raised £800 through ticket sales, and hopes to top £1,000.

“I’ve really been overwhelmed,” she said. “I was originally hoping for £500 so I’m now going to raise my target.”

Among the donated prizes are a signed Gordon Ramsay cookbook and a two-week family pass to the David Lloyd gym in Gidea Park, worth £200.

If you’d like to donate a prize, call Debbie on 07949 112 957, or visit https://www.facebook.com/Zachs3rdBirthdayRaffle.

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