'Miracle' girl Ailsa aims to help Kettering and Northampton special care baby units

The Whatley family want to give something back to the NHS after life-saving treatments
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A Higham Ferrers man who not only faced losing his premature baby daughter but his cancer-stricken wife on the same day has been inspired to lead a campaign to help new parents at Northamptonshire's two main hospitals.

After going through IVF followed by an extremely complicated pregnancy and life-saving cancer treatment, Sara and Niven Whatley were so grateful to the NHS that they wanted to give something back.

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Founding a charity named after their daughter, Ailsa's Aim, they have set out to deliver ‘rays of sunshine’ - carry cots filled with goodies - to Special Care Baby Units at Kettering and Northampton General Hospitals.

Sara, Ailsa and Niven WhatleySara, Ailsa and Niven Whatley
Sara, Ailsa and Niven Whatley

The charity will donate the gifts to help parents who are rushed into hospital and have no equipment - a situation the family found themselves in.

Niven said: "For them both to be here now is a miracle. I could have lost them both on the same day.

"I had Ailsa in the Special Care Baby Unit and Sara in intensive care. I was rushing between the two - I was having to do 24-hours. I couldn't worry, it was frantic and frenetic."

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The couple had been trying to conceive for five years before IVF gave them the chance to become parents but Sara's pregnancy was far from straight forward.

Carrycots containing necessities for mums and babies will be donated to KGH and NGHCarrycots containing necessities for mums and babies will be donated to KGH and NGH
Carrycots containing necessities for mums and babies will be donated to KGH and NGH

As well as gestational diabetes, anaemia and near miscarriages, extra screening scans revealed a 'cyst' rapidly growing on her ovaries. Between two scans doctors discovered the growth had become such a size it was decided they had to operate on Sara that meant Ailsa had to be delivered early.

On December 6, 2018, Ailsa was born at 34 weeks by C-section and whisked straight into SCBU. Sara had the cyst removed - but it was not water-filled but a huge cancer.

Niven, 42, said: "I had asked if there was any chance it was cancer but they said a cancer wouldn't grow so rapidly. Midway through the operation they found out it wasn't a cyst.

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"It was the size of a kitchen sink - four times the size of Ailsa."

The family donate goodies to staff at Kettering General HospitalThe family donate goodies to staff at Kettering General Hospital
The family donate goodies to staff at Kettering General Hospital

When tests were performed on the mass, doctors discovered three 'inordinately' rare advanced-stage cancers.

Niven had to dash between departments, constantly changing PPE to be with his wife and baby, transporting expressed breast milk from Sara to feed Ailsa.

Ailsa made rapid progress and was home for Christmas only for Sara to be taken to Charing Cross Hospital a month later in London for six months of intensive chemotherapy.

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Niven said: "Ailsa was a warrior. We were told she might be in hospital for three months, she came out in 13 days. Then Sara was in hospital in London.

Ailsa WhatleyAilsa Whatley
Ailsa Whatley

"It was horrific. When I went to see Sara, Ailsa couldn't come because the chemotherapy drugs were so strong. Sara was an absolute superstar."

Because Sara's admission had been unexpected, she was thrilled to receive a parcel of donated goodies - toiletries and little gifts - given by a former patient.

It was this experience that led to the formation of Ailsa's Aim.

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Niven said: "We wanted to repay those miracle workers who saved my wife, Sara, and our daughter, Ailsa, and to bring ‘rays of sunshine’ to others who unexpectedly or terrifyingly find themselves in hospital and/or in need."

Kettering-born Sara, 39, has had to stop working as an optician as she lost feeling in her hands after the chemotherapy but it means she can volunteer for the charity and look after Ailsa.

She said: "I love being a mum, she's such a bubbly, bright little girl. I still have after effects that aren't going to go away. I'm a very lucky girl."

The items on the Wishy wish list that can be donatedThe items on the Wishy wish list that can be donated
The items on the Wishy wish list that can be donated

Now three-years-old, Ailsa and her family have provided essential care packages to those in need with cancer, neonatal and complex diagnoses and to their carers and loved ones, as well as to the NHS and those who provide the care.

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Based out of Higham Ferrers and with offices in Olney the charity has several volunteers, regular donors and a local following, as well as providing services to nine hospitals in six regions, three schools, two community centres and often to individuals and groups of vulnerable people.

Niven said: "We have forged partnerships with the hospitals including Northampton and Kettering General, and schools including Manor School in Raunds and have been delivering care items and presents to patients, carers and families weekly, including during the pandemic.

"The new campaign is in the Special Care Baby Units at Kettering and Northampton. We have managed to secure 60 baby carry cots, normally worth £150 each, which we will fill with £30 to £40 of additional luxury care, personal and cosmetic items and products for the babies, and which we will be donating to the families of all babies in neonatal care in both hospitals.

"People can donate and contribute to this or future campaigns - £50 would actually contribute a whole filled carry cot.

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"We know how difficult it is to have a baby in special care. We have devised a carry cot full of items to help spend precious moments with the new baby."

Anyone wanting to donate to the appeal can with use a text-to-donate link - Text COT to 70580 to donate £5 - texts will cost the donation amount plus one standard network rate message.