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Jolie's story

There but for the grace of God

On this day, four years ago, my two-and-a-half year old daughter was in the High Dependency Unit at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. During the previous 48 hours she had become increasingly and very suddenly ill. Her temperature soared, her stomach was expanding and at the point they moved her to HDU she was semi-comatose on an intravenous drip of Clindamycin, usually reserved for MRSA patients. The doctor counselled us that they feared she had contracted necrotising fasciitis in her stomach lining, and advised us not to go home and Google it.

Doped on a mixture of 4 hours sleep in 48 hours, hospital coffee and panic, I cried. All the time. I cried at the kindness of the nurses, as the doctor approached her bed, and when my mum walked into the unit having flown home early from a holiday abroad. I stumbled over her date of birth four times before getting it right, as they wheeled her into theatre.

Then, the paediatric plastic surgeon arrived. The team had delayed surgery until he was available, due to the complexity of muscle which required his specific expertise. The room hushed and I felt a huge sense of relief as he approached her bed and listened intently to his team. He approached me, looked straight into my eyes and shook my hand. He didn’t blind me with science, Latin terms, relative success statistics or professional theories. He told me he was a father, that he would do his very best for my little girl and parted with the words, ‘There, but for the grace of God, go our children’*.

It was this encounter that enabled me to sign my name at the bottom of a contract permitting the surgeons to cut away and remove any part of her that had become infected. It was this encounter that enabled me to pass the next two hours without going out of my mind.

We were lucky. It was a straight forward streptococcus infection that had manifested in her stomach lining. Two weeks later she was home and today she has a small 4cm scar on her tummy. My husband jokes about how old she will be before she comes home with a tattoo around it.

But I was left with this enduring feeling about parenthood. Even though this man was a complete stranger, he connected to me over the complete devoted love we feel for our children. One week later I wrote the business plan for Vista. A communications company, run by parents, helping businesses to communicate with parents in a compassionate, empathetic and authentic way. We run flexible working hours around our family’s needs and every member of staff has an extra day holiday each year, dedicated to doing something special with their family. If our children are ill, they come first. We all step in to support each other, knowing that every parent is juggling, time challenged, and above all, highly driven to provide for these little people we have brought into the world.

Jane, mum to Bella 7, Jolie 6 and Connie, 1

* A proverb in recognition that others’ misfortune could be your own

Kathrine Switzer. The first woman to officially compete in a marathon in 1967. Four miles into the race, an official, Jock Semple, attempted to grab Switzer, yelling, “get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers" After she'd finished the race, she was disqualified and expelled from the athletics federation because she had run with men..