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With A Little Help From My Friends: Grateful Dad Raises Funds By Photographing All 63 Hospital Staff Who Saved His Baby

15/04/2012 12:50 | Updated 22 May 2015
With a little help from my friends: Dad raises funds for hospital that saved his little boy from life-threatening virusWorldwide Features

Michael Cockerham remembers with chilling clarity the moment he and his wife realised they might lose their baby son, Phineas.

"Phineas was lying on a bed hooked up to drips and tubes while teams of medics were working on him," says Michael, 42. "I asked the doctor whether he was going to die; he paused for a really long time before answering, in a noncommittal way, that he didn't think so. That was when I realised there was the possibility we could lose him and I broke down."

Just three weeks earlier Michael and his wife Laura had taken their perfectly healthy new born baby home. Then one night Phineas developed a mild fever. With terrifying speed the virus overwhelmed his immune system. His parents could only watch on helplessly as the medics battled to save his life.

"It had all happened so quickly - one minute he just had a virus, the next he was close to death," recalls Michael.

But Phineas recovered - thanks to the extraordinary efforts of the team of medics who worked on him.

His father was so grateful that he embarked on a mission: to photograph every doctor, nurse and specialist who'd helped save his little boy - all 63 of them - to acknowledge their incredible work, and to help raise funds for their hospital, the Evelina Children's Hospital, London.

Michael, who lives with his wife Laura and their sons Joshua, seven, and Toby, four, and Phineas, now two, in Hextable, Kent, says:

"I never want to forget the people who fought to save my son. And I wanted to highlight the huge team involved in his care, to show the enormous number of medics needed to save a baby."

With a little help from my friends: Dad raises funds for hospital that saved his little boy from life-threatening virusWorldwide Features

Michael's photographs of these inspiring professionals provide a brilliant visual testament to the resources that the NHS commits to saving lives every day.

The family's terrifying story began in May 2010, when newborn Phineas suddenly became lethargic and developed a temperature. His mother, Laura, 33, took him at 6am the next morning to the local Queen Mary's Hospital in Sidcup, where she was told her son just had a virus, and to take him home.

But a few hours later Phineas' limbs became floppy, so his mum took him to another hospital, Darent Valley Hospital, near Dartford.

"Phineas had become more listless, and even less responsive," she says. "He wasn't even crying."

On seeing his condition, a nurse immediately called for a consultant. "That's when I really started to panic," recalls Laura. She then rang Michael, who had taken their other two sons to visit Laura's parents, and he arrived at the hospital an hour later.

With a little help from my friends: Dad raises funds for hospital that saved his little boy from life-threatening virusWorldwide Features

The doctors couldn't work out what was causing his symptoms - Phineas' oxygen and blood sugar levels were dangerously low, which can lead to long-term brain damage or can be fatal.

Just 24 hours after he'd arrived at hospital, doctors took the decision to transfer Phineas to a specialist children's hospital - the Evelina Children's Hospital - 12 miles away in London.

"He was transferred in a type of cocoon - it looked like something produced by Nasa," says Michael.

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I've never seen so many dials and pumps and buttons. It was all temperature controlled, with heart rate and oxygen monitors built into it. Laura went with him and I went in the car, so I was 45 minutes behind the ambulance.

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For the next 36 hours, staff at the Evelina battled to keep Phineas alive, while trying to work out what was causing his symptoms. His temperature had soared to 102 degrees, dangerously high, and which could potentially trigger organ failure, and they flooded his tiny body with a vast number of antibiotics and antivirals, in the hope of catching whatever it was behind his condition.

Phineas also underwent chest X-rays, a lumbar puncture to check the spinal fluid for signs of brain inflammation, blood tests as well as urine tests:

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The doctors couldn't tell us whether he would suffer any brain damage, so it was running through our minds how we, and our family, would cope with this.

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It was a desperately fraught time, made worse by the fact that the couple weren't able to hold their son because of the large number of machines and wires needed to keep him alive.

But finally the doctors managed to stabilise Phineas' condition.

"One of the doctors came up to us and said it had been life-threatening, but that he was going to pull through," says Michael. "We were both just overwhelmed with relief and Laura dissolved into tears - it was a combination of such fatigue, worry and relief."

They were then able to hold their son properly. "It was difficult as he still had tubes in him, but it was just so lovely to have him back in our arms," says Michael.

He was moved off the intensive care ward, and five days after Phineas had been admitted, the medics discovered the cause of his illness: the Parecho virus. It's a common virus, often causing nothing more than fever and general malaise, but because Phineas was so young, it had overwhelmed his immature immune system.

With a little help from my friends: Dad raises funds for hospital that saved his little boy from life-threatening virusWorldwide Features

Just a week after he was first admitted with a life-threatening illness, Phineas was well enough to go home.

But Michael wanted to do something to thank the staff for their enormous work. With the help of a hospital consultant, he tracked down all the staff who'd helped saved Phineas: "I'd been struck by how many people had taken part. I met about 30 of them whilst we were in hospital but most of them were the anonymous faces behind it all.

"Some of them were shy about having their picture taken but they understood what I was trying to achieve."

His book of the photographs, Phineas' Friends, has gone on sale with all proceeds going to the Evelina.

"He was just a tiny little baby but so many people fought to save his life and keep him here with us," says Michael.

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And now, every time I look at that book of photographs I'm overcome with gratitude. I will show Phineas the book when he is older and tell him about all these remarkable people.

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For more information about the book visit Bluefilter.co.uk/phineasfriends

Words: Lucy Laing at Worldwide Features

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