PARENTS

Thinking of Oscar: The Death Of Their Child Inspired This Couple's Mission To Care For Sick Children

21/08/2015 09:57 BST | Updated 21/08/2015 13:59 BST

After their son died suddenly at just 16 months old, Hannah and David Cole channeled their energies into caring for other sick children.

Oscar was born a healthy baby in February 2013, but at 15 months old he started experiencing frequent fevers over a number of weeks.

"No symptoms that were particularly alarming, just usual toddler type stuff," Mrs Cole told HuffPost UK Parents.

"But because they were so frequent and without explanation we were referred to hospital where he was quickly diagnosed with osteomyelitis, which is an infection of the bone."

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Hannah and David Cole with their children Oscar and Holly

Mr and Mrs Cole, who also have a four-year-old daughter Holly, were told Oscar's infection was in his spine, but it was not a life-threatening condition.

Mrs Cole said: "Oscar was given the intravenous administration of antibiotics for six weeks at home.

"To do this a PICC line [catheter] needed to be inserted. He was released from hospital, but readmitted less than 48 hours later because the PICC line had become infected.

"Back in hospital additional antibiotics were prescribed to get on top of the new infection."

A week later, Oscar's condition began to deteriorate and he died unexpectedly on 19 June 2014.

At the time, nobody knew what caused his death.

It took months of further investigation to conclude that the most likely explanation was that 16-month-old Oscar contracted Rota Virus while in hospital.

Rota Virus is a stomach bug that is highly-infectious among young children and which causes sickness and diarrhoea.

Mrs Cole said: "In very rare instances this can lead to encephalitis, which is an inflammation of the brain, and in Oscar’s case it caused his death.

"Rota virus is now vaccinated against and had Oscar been born a matter of days later he would have also received that vaccination."

Mrs Cole describes Oscar as being a "strong and lively toddler" and she said it was painful to watch his older sister trying to adjust to life without him.

She told HuffPost UK Parents: "Oscar’s death changed our lives irrevocably. It was extremely difficult.

"We had to recalibrate everything – what we mean by fine or ok now is not the same as what we meant by fine or ok in our old life."

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It was only hours after Oscar died in hospital when Mr and Mrs Cole decided they wanted to do something in his memory.

"We knew that we needed to turn our lives upside down and do something amazing because of him," Mrs Cole said.

In September 2014, the couple officially founded Thinking of Oscar, an organisation that provides support to children's hospitals in ways that will help make the lives of children and their families easier, while in hospital care.

Mrs Cole said: "We want to improve the experiences of young children. For example, this might be something as tactical as providing books with buttons to press to distract a child whilst they are being checked over.

"Ultimately our goal is more strategic," she adds.

"We want to identify problems to solve, whereby we can say that as a result of the work of the charity, Thinking of Oscar, lives have been saved."

The couple were clear they didn't want the objectives of Thinking of Oscar to only revolve around their family tragedy.

Mrs Cole said what happened to Oscar was "so unlikely to occur", that there was no sense in setting out to prevent something like that happening again.

She said: "We wanted to identify a purpose that was of such significance that more people would get behind us. This in turn would mean that we could raise more money and impact more lives."

Since founding the charity, Thinking of Oscar has helped children at the couple's local hospital - John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.

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The first thing they did was replenish the playrooms at the hospital in December 2014.

In February 2015, Thinking of Oscar gained charitable status.

Not long after, the charity arranged a trial of vein finder devices that can make taking blood samples and inserting cannula’s less stressful for children at John Radcliffe Hospital.

Cole explained: "In one instance a child had experienced six failed attempts at finding a vein to take some blood from, but on the seventh attempt, with the aid of the vein finder, they were successful.

"The pilot was deemed to be a success and we have agreed to fund four devices, one for each floor of the hospital and one for A&E. Each device costs in the region of £3,500.

"We are in the process of arranging the procurement of these with the hospital."

Now Thinking of Oscar has received charity status, Cole said they are in the process of selecting projects which will have an immediate positive impact on the lives of young children and their families whilst in hospital care.

She said: "We have said that we will not be satisfied in what the charity has achieved until we can say lives have been saved as a result of the efforts of Thinking of Oscar. This is our long term goal."

As well as helping others, Cole said the charity has completely shifted her and her husband's perspective on life.

"We are no longer concerned with much of the hum drum frustrations of life – bad traffic, the weather," she said.

"We just don’t get wound up by things in the same way as we might have done previously.

"We appreciate the smallest things now, and a small number of people have been impacted by Oscar’s death sufficiently to also be looking at life through completely different lenses without having to suffer their own devastating loss."

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Cole added: "The other thing that we worked out very early on was that helping other people made us feel better.

"We also found that there is a direct correlation between how we are feeling about our new life, how well we are coping with it and how much time we have spent on the charity."

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The charity currently has an aim of raising £100,000 for a new paediatric procedures unit at the John Radcliffe children’s hospital.

Cole said currently many children's procedures which are not operations have to take place in an operating theatre, due to the lack of a paediatric procedures unit, which causes children to leave their beds and enter an environment not specially designed for them.

"It can be quite scary," Cole said. "What children’s staff at the John Radcliffe would like is to have their own 'procedures room’ within the children’s hospital.

"This would have all the appropriate equipment to do the various procedures and a quiet area for recovering after the anaesthetic.

"The room would be decorated in a child friendly fashion. If the equipment is in the right place, staff could come to the child rather than the child going to the staff."

Cole said the room would improve efficiency, reduce delays, remove uncertainty as to when procedures might happen and avoid or shorten some inpatient stays.

To date, they have raised approximately £60,000 towards the new unit.

As a new charity, they are still looking for people with expertise on social media reach and fundraising to help them on their journey.

To donate to the charity or find out more, visit www.thinkingofoscar.com.

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