Meet Fenella

Originally published in the Herald Sun, 2 April 2021
Words: Brigid O’Connell
Photo: David Caird

Herald Sun reporter Brigid O’Connell thanks The Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) for caring for her daughter Fenella when she suffered burns.

There is a particular type of scream, a rarely-used pitch, that parents reserve for issuing a cry for help for their child.

I knew this sound instinctively when I heard it one hot night in late January, when I was watering the vegie garden.

“The glass, the glass,” my husband Hayden kept yelling.

He was holding our baby daughter Fenella, who had not long celebrated her first birthday. She was screaming and bleeding all over.

A newly installed heated ceiling light had shattered all over her as she sat on the bath mat, getting dry.

Every spot where the shards landed on her was flecked with blood.

My first thought was we need to get to the RCH — now.

Fenella suffered burns after a bathroom heater light glass exploded on her. Photo: David Caird, Herald Sun

I’ve covered the Good Friday Appeal for the Herald Sun for more than 10 years. Each year I’m based at the hospital every day for the five weeks before Easter with a photographer.

We walk the wards looking for engaging stories. We are invited into the operating theatres and are there when the parents say their teary see-you-laters to their children in the anaesthetic bay.

We are there when children who have lost their legs to cancer or a congenital abnormality, are fitted with prosthetic limbs.

I have seen the tender touches, the strands in the human chain of kindness, that the RCH is based on.

The neurosurgeon who lovingly keeps clippings of the baby’s hair for the parents — essentially their child’s first hair cut — from the section that needs to be shaved ahead of brain surgery. Or the nurses and doctors who raise money for the hospital in their own time, or start a side career in medical research to better solve the problems their little patients face.

And I have seen how multiple teams are mobilised for most children, each specialist putting in their piece of the puzzle to complete the picture of good health.

But until you need their services as a parent, it’s hard to really understand that power.

It wasn’t until we arrived at ED that the full extent of Fenella’s injuries were clear.

She had suffered third-degree burns across her shoulders, neck, legs and arm.

When plastic surgeons start talking skin grafts and preparing you for the fact you’ll be a patient at the burns clinic for at least the next year, you would do anything to change places with your child.

But the care we have been shown has been second to none. In our regular appointments, we are seen by two plastic surgeons, two nurses, two burns physiotherapists and a play therapist.

You can’t beat that care.

This has been our second encounter with the hospital in the past year.

Last June we were admitted to hospital when Fenella, then aged six months, could not stop vomiting all week.

Fenella with parents Brigid O’Connell and Hayden Lewis at home. Photo: David Caird, Herald Sun

They left no stone unturned in their search for the reason of her illness, which thankfully turned out to be a virus.

And when a blood test turned up markers linked to heart failure, they didn’t even wait for the results of the repeat blood test to come back before ordering an ECG at midnight.

This has been a different Good Friday Appeal for my family this year.

I am so grateful we are in the right city, at the right time, to access their amazing care and I give thanks this Easter.