AT 10-months-old, little Harry Brown is a picture of health – but his big blue eyes, little button-nose and cute smile mask a traumatic first few months in his life.
Born with an irregular-shaped head, he underwent excruciating surgery at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, to redirect his over-lapped skull bones which had become fused.
In a life-changing two-hour operation, surgeons cut a large S-shape on the crown of Harry’s head and inserted sets of springs at the front, middle and back, to re-balance the shape of the four-month-old baby’s “boat-shaped” head.
A month later the cut was reopened and the springs were removed, having completed their task.
Harry’s parents, Hannah Bush and builder Neil Brown, of Heron Close, Downham Market, are still in awe of the expertise and understanding they and their baby received throughout their ordeal and have set about raising funds for the famous London hospital.
Neil is undergoing a sponsored head shave at Sorella’s the Bridge Street hairstylists run by his sisters Beverley Brown and Susan Whitehurst. The event takes place on Saturday, April 16 at 1pm.
“Harry’s head was a strange shape when he was born and you could feel a slight ridge over the seams of his skull bones,” said Hannah, who was told this sometimes happens with breech babies like Harry.
In every other aspect Harry was a healthy baby, but the shape of his head caused concern and a scan led to a referral to Great Ormond where the family met consultant paediatric neurosurgeon Mr N u Owase Jeelani, head of the cranial facial department, who talked them through the options.
At four months old, Harry was admitted for the operation, an experience that took Hannah and Neil to hell and back, but both admit it is even more terrifying when they think or talk about it now and realise just what they all went through.
“Carrying him down for his pre-med was the longest walk of our lives and the nearer we got to those theatre doors, the quieter it became. The medical team were fantastic but when you hand over your baby you can’t begin to explain what’s going on,” said Neil.
“Young as he was I’m sure Harry was sensing something, he was just looking up at me. The operation took about two hours but it seemed like a lifetime as we waited upstairs. No matter how hard you try, you can’t find the words to describe it. When we went to see him in recovery, he was wearing his nappy and a big bandage round his head,” he recalled.
“He looked like Mr Bump, bless him,” said Hannah, who was just as anxious about taking Harry home on the train, through London rush hour.
“It was all such a worry but we made it. There was very little sleep that night and the next morning his face was very swollen and he cried so much it was difficult for him to catch his breath.
“It was far beyond a normal cry. He must have been in so much pain and he’s never cried like that again since. Fortunately, the changes to his head happened really quickly, but it was just as traumatic having the springs taken out.
“Harry’s fine now although we sometimes we look through the photographs and can’t believe what he’s come through.”
Recalling the hospital’s waiting room on the morning of the operation, Neil said: “We thought we had a problem but in some respects, it was nothing compared with what you see there – so many children from Harry’s age up to teenagers and they are all there to have something major done. One little boy was waiting for his 12th operation and he was only about four or five years old.
“It’s an incredible place but to do their work, they rely on £50 million of charity donations each year.
“Our family and friends are helping us to raise some money in gratitude for all they’ve done for Harry.
“With a coffee morning, car boot sale and other events they have already raised £1,000, and we’ll also have an Easter raffle at the head shave as well,” said Neil, adding several businesses have donated more than 40 prizes at the last count.
“We were so lucky having our family and friends right behind us throughout Harry’s treatment – it was stressful and affected everyone around us.
“When you go through something like this it makes you realise how precious life is. The everyday moans and groans are not that important. Having said that, if Harry wakes up in the night, our nerves are not always that good!”
Meanwhile wide-eyed Harry is just getting on with his life. His first birthday is looming in May and there will be a check-up for him back in London the same month.
If you’d like to support the family’s fundraising efforts contact Hannah and Neil on 01366 384309, or call in at Sorella’s on the day.