Our daughter Cara was born 24 years ago at 27 weeks’ gestation, weighing 2lb 4oz.
The first few weeks were really difficult, as she had two life-threatening chest infections, seven blood transfusions and spent 12 weeks in hospital. My husband was working away from home a lot of the time, so I found it easy to be in the neonatal unit for feeds and care very early in the morning and late at night. I didn't want to be anywhere else.
The nursing staff were very patient with us, as we hadn't been in an environment like this before, with all the beeps and alarms. We didn't have any knowledge of what was going on medically, as there was so much terminology. We soon learned how to stimulate Cara by massaging her feet when she forgot to breathe, clean her mouth, unfold her ears and turn her when necessary.
Very quickly we felt part of the team, interacting with the nurses, other parents, doctors and consultants.
Dr Clark was her named consultant. She was a wonderful lady, who was extremely honest, never giving false hope and taking things one step at a time. There were times when Cara's dad and I would wake up in the morning, still exhausted from the emotional stress of the previous days and thankful that we hadn't been called in the night to be with Cara.
Hours turned into days, days into weeks, weeks into months. Her one hundredth day in hospital came and went. Eventually we brought Cara home. We were very nervous and anxious, but so proud.
Hospital visits to see Dr Clark were weekly to begin with, but appointment intervals began to lengthen. We had one readmission with breathing difficulties at five months, but Cara slowly began to put on weight a little at a time.
At 22 months she took her first steps and the day before her second birthday she started nursery, still unable to talk. From a very early stage we made a pact to never wrap her in cotton wool and she joined in with activities appropriate for her age. Regular visits to the child development centre and reviews by their team were a reassurance to us and by the age of four the team told us Cara should attend mainstream school, but that we could get referred back to them if we felt the need.
Soon after Cara started school she became a proud big sister to Chloe. Starting school was tough; Cara was the least able in her class, but the most determined. All the way through primary school she worked hard, eventually getting marks that put her at the top of the year. Whilst at senior school Cara played the French horn, went to Scouts and Explorers and rowed.
When asked what she wanted to be when she grew up Cara used to say a lawyer, as she "liked arguing". However from 12 years of age, being a doctor was all she spoke of. GCSEs came and went, all A and A* grades. AS levels came with a hiccup, due to boyfriend and other teenage distractions, but the results were still encouraging. A levels arrived, by which time all my husband’s hair had fallen out and I had several grey hairs, but Cara’s results secured her a place at Southampton University to study medicine. What a roller coaster!
Prior to starting university, Cara had started to faint and was referred to a consultant, who said she was fine and that "it was a girl thing". We left Cara for her first term at Southampton full of optimism and enthusiasm. She returned at Christmas nervous about her first exams, but working hard. The second term started with an awful text from her one lunchtime saying she had experienced a seizure whilst in a lecture.
Eventually she was sent home for investigations and told she could begin the course again in the autumn. After many hospital visits and investigations we had a diagnosis of epilepsy. This was a real blow and she was unable to drive for a year. It was during her time at home that she began to date Kiran.
Five years on and very many exams and placements later, we are extremely proud that this summer Miss Cara Webb became Dr Cara Webb and the day after her graduation she married her fiancé, Kiran. We even had one of her consultants and one of her nurses from the unit there on the day.
She is a beautiful, caring sister to Chloe, Ilona and Bryony and has the most encouraging, supportive husband at her side.
As parents we couldn't be more proud. We have had our ups and downs, like any parents of a very premature child, or a child born at full term! We are eternally grateful to Dr Clark and the nursing staff who encouraged and supported us throughout our journey, the teachers who had faith in her abilities and Kiran, for standing by her when she was studying away from home and sometimes feeling very anxious and exhausted; he certainly shared the emotional load when it was exam time!