A London mum has spoken of the horror she felt when she watched her disabled child go into cardiac arrest.
Lisa Strudwick, 47, from Purley, is a full-time carer for her daughter, and was left “screaming, crying, and went into panic” when her daughter, Georgia, 17, had the attack.
Georgia was diagnosed with Retts syndrome aged just two. Retts syndrome is a rare genetic neurological disorder that affects the ability to speak, walk, eat, and even breathe easily.
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Then three years ago Georgia was also diagnosed with dystonia, a disorder that’s characterised by involuntary muscle spasms all over the body.
And two years later – at just 15 – Lisa experienced a parent’s worst nightmare when Georgia’s heart stopped during a cardiac arrest, which Lisa says was “the most horrific thing ever.”
Cardiac arrests are usually a death sentence. According to the British Heart Foundation, in the UK 30,000 people have them out of hospital and just 1 in 10 people survive.
Lisa says she stood there and thought her child was going to die before she’d even become an adult.
“Yes I did (think Georgia was going to die), it was horrific.
“One of the nurses (who looks after Georgia at night) actually screamed out to me because she went into the bedroom and saw Georgia take a deep breath and that was it.
“She jumped on the bed and was doing CPR, and I was doing mouth to mouth as we waited for an ambulance.
“It was like a scene from a movie because we had so many policemen knocking on the door.”
Lisa added: “Georgia had to have something put in her leg because they didn’t access any veins or anything. She was attached to a machine and it was clear she had flatlined. The nurse basically saved her.”
Against all the odds Georgia survived her cardiac arrest, but it has come at a price for Lisa – her mental health.
Ever since the attack, Lisa has suffered from constant anxiety and she feels like she’s on “her own 24/7.”
She only has relief in the evenings when the nurses come as she can happily leave the house and go running.
Lisa’s mental health also worsened when her mum, Catherine, tragically passed away six weeks ago.
“My mum was my biggest support, she was just amazing. From when Georgia was 2, my mother had always been there,” said Lisa.
Although Georgia’s conditions have been stressful for the family, they have brought Georgia, Lisa, her brother Bobby, 12, and her dad, Jeff, closer together.
(Image: Lisa Strudwick)
She said: “It’s actually brought us closer if anything, we work really well as a team.”
The cardiac arrest wasn’t actually the first time Lisa has seen Georgia suffer at the hands of her ill-health.
Georgia’s Retts syndrome left her suffering seizures as a baby, and not knowing what the causes of these seizures were was extremely traumatic for Lisa.
Watching Georgia have them was “just heart-breaking and awful to watch because there’s nothing you can do, there’s no medication that can take it away instantly.”
As a result of her conditions Georgia is for most of the time either lying or sat down, which leaves her prone to chest infections, to the point where she’s had 20 in the last 12 years.
Lisa puts the constant chest infections down to “it being the weakest part of her body (Georgia’s chest), but I’m not sure why.
“She needs 24/7 breathing assistance, and she goes on the breathing machine to help with this.”
Georgia’s health impediments means she requires additional care, and this is typically funded by the NHS.
She currently receives night care between 9pm until 7am, and up until last year she had four hours care funded by the health service during the day.
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But this was retracted, as according to Lisa, Georgia didn’t “meet the criteria” for the extra care – even though she sometimes stops breathing.
Lisa said that the NHS asked for extra evidence that Georgia’s prone to stopping breathing, something that left Ms Strudwick perplexed.
And now Lisa’s been in a battle with the NHS to get Georgia one-to-one care during the day so she can return to school after two years of being absent.
She said: “We’ve been fighting for two years to get her to go back to school to get a one-to-one because it’s unsafe for Georgia to go to school without it.
“This is because teachers in the classroom have other kids to focus on and Georgia could just hold her breath at any point and you don’t know when she is going to do it.”
As a result, Lisa has a strong and clear message to the NHS, and it’s to provide vulnerable children with the care they deserve.
“If a child needs help and support they should get it,” she said.
“There’s so many people out there that get help, and I get it taken away from me because she doesn’t meet the criteria.
“At the end of the day, if she stops breathing, how can they let her go to School knowing that there’s not a 1-1 to look after her.
“I only have to walk out the room and she can hold her breath. She has done it to me so many times in the car and they know that I cannot leave my house unless I have someone with me in the car.”
In April this year Lisa set up a fundraiser to buy Georgia an ‘Innowalk’ exercise machine.
It is a special exercise machine – which resembles a cross trainer – that helps disabled children with mobility issues exercise standing upright.
An Innowalk machine costs £24,000, which is money the Strudwicks simply don’t have spare.
(Image: Lisa Strudwick)
But upon seeing one of Lisa’s posts on Facebook, two good Samaritans, family friends Barry Plummer and James Mitchell set up a fundraiser and generated the cash to buy one for Georgia.
Lisa said: “We just owe them so much, it’s just amazing.”
Despite James and Barry’s generosity in setting up the fundraiser to help Georgia, other local residents also played their part in helping raise money, including one anonymous donor who gave a staggering £5,000.
A spokesperson for the NHS in South West London said: “We are unable to comment on individual cases, but the family is encouraged to raise any concerns during the annual review process where we will work closely with them and other local agencies to ensure the most appropriate care is in place.”