How the power of friendship saved a girl’s life

Imagine this. Your daughter, who has suffered serious spinal and brain problems all her 13 years, has an operation that is meant to change her life. But things don’t go well and your child, when she wakes to find her fragile body still terribly broken, loses the will to live. You watch her fade in front of you, but there’s nothing you can do to bring her back from the brink. And it’s killing you too. What do you do?

This is the terrible reality mum Stephanie Branch faced as her precious daughter, Victoria, lay forlorn in her hospital bed. After at least a dozen operations on her brain and spine over 13 years, her usually joyful, resilient daughter had lost the will to live.

Victoria, born with congenital scoliosis, had just endured a marathon operation that was meant to repair her corkscrew spine. But complications during surgery meant doctors had actually spent most of the eight hours just trying to keep her alive.

For seven weeks before the operation, Victoria had been in halo traction – a weighted metal crown bolted to her skull – to stretch out her ribs and relieve pressure on her crushed lungs. She had been desperately looking forward to getting out of the device after her operation at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital.

victoria before op

So when she woke from her induced coma five days later to find it still attached – and with a torn esophagus, collapsed lung and shattered rib from the operation complications – she was devastated.

“She just gave up – wouldn’t eat, didn’t want to know, wouldn’t do anything,” says mum Stephanie.  She rang her husband at their home in rural Tasmania. “Get over, she’s going to die,” she told him. “She just didn’t want to live any more.”

Her parents were beside themselves – the Victoria they saw before them was unrecognisable.

“She’s a fighter, she never lets anything stop her,” Stephanie says. “Physically there are some things she can’t do, but if she can find a way around it, she’ll do it.  But the difference between the girl who went into the surgery and the one who came out was so dramatic.”

Tayla and Victoria

Then, they got their miracle: a surprise visitor from Tasmania – Victoria’s best friend, Tayla.

“The look on (Victoria’s) face was priceless,” Stephanie says. “She laughed, she cried, the smile didn’t go. She was just so happy. Tayla stayed for three days and literally made the difference between Victoria still being here and not.”

Tayla’s visit was arranged by charity TLC for Kids, after hospital staff alerted them to her plight. Tayla brought homemade cards from Victoria’s classmates, which decorated her room for the rest of her hospital stay.

“It was like someone walking in with a miracle cure in their hands,” Stephanie says. “I think if Tayla hadn’t come, more than likely we wouldn’t have her now. I firmly believe she would have died; she just didn’t want to do it any more.”

Victoria loving her decorated room

The charity’s Rapid TLC program brings fast help, relief and support to children in hospital and their families, when they need it most. Help can range from toys and colouring books to big-ticket household items, accommodation and more – the possibilities are endless.

“It might not be a huge thing they do, in the sense of cost or being elaborate, but it’s huge for the person receiving it,” Stephanie says.

Babyology is proud to be supporting TLC for Kids – which helps hospitals right across Australia through its Rapid TLC and Distraction Box programs – with our Christmas Care campaign. We have joined with generous sponsors to donate more than $37,000 of goods to this amazing charity.

Products including shoes, toys, arts and crafts supplies, skincare goods, baby monitors, potties, wipes and baby carriers are being sent to the charity’s Melbourne-based warehouse and will be used to help countless families in coming months and years.

victoria after op

Two days after Tayla’s visit, Victoria was ready to face the next round of surgery, and the operation was a success. She is now back at school, where she and Tayla are still inseparable.

“They’re two peas in a pod,” Stephanie says. “Taylor’s a dancer and into sport, whereas Poss (Victoria) can’t, but that doesn’t matter to their friendship.”

You can join our Christmas Care campaign by donating to TLC for Kids directly. Check out our previous posts on Rapid TLC and Distraction Boxes to find out more about this wonderful cause.

Michelle Rose

Michelle Rose

Michelle is a journalist and mum to two girls who are obsessed with dinosaurs, fairies, pirates and princesses in equal measure. She lives in Melbourne's east with her husband, daughters and a giant, untameable labradoodle. Michelle loves all things vegetarian, wine (it's a fruit) and online shopping.

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