THE BLOG

Fighting the Health System to Save Your Life

29/10/2014 15:46 GMT | Updated 28/12/2014 10:59 GMT

Lee and Alex Cripps are parents of twin girls who are coming up to four. Alex is 36 and works at Reading University and Lee is an IT specialist working for Vodafone. They are a confident and professional couple with demanding jobs.

In November 2013 Alex started to have headaches which kept waking her up at night. By January she noticed that her handwriting had changed - very much for the worst.

In mid-January she went to see her local GP who carried out some basic motor skills test and recommended she see a neurologist at the Royal Berkshire Hospital. This was not an 'urgent' appointment however Alex got lucky with appointments and saw the Neurologist one week later.

The Neurologist carried out some tests and was confident that it was not a 'space occupying lesion' - he said it was because her skull was probably too small for her brain at some point. Alex was given a date for an MRI scan - for nine and half weeks later - in mid-March.

On Sunday 2nd February Alex experienced even worse headaches and was so ill that Lee insisted she go to A&E - at the Royal Berkshire Hospital. They remember that the doctor on duty was not that impressed with the story of headaches. They formed the firm impression that the doctor wanted to send her home with some pain killers.

It was only because Lee insisted that they take it more seriously that they eventually admitted her. Alex has no recollection from this point on until several days later.

After being admitted she went to sleep and did not wake up the next morning. Urgent CT scans the following morning revealed she had a malignant brain tumour the size of a tangerine.

When Lee arrived he recalls that two women Doctors sat him down - one took his hand and started crying even before telling him about Alex's condition.

Royal Berkshire Hospital contacted the John Radcliffe in Hospital in Oxford - who are the specialist neurological unit for the area. Doctors at the John Radcliffe saw the scans and insisted she was brought to them immediately.

Alex had only a short time to live at this point - unless she was operated on immediately. She was rushed to the John Radcliffe where she was operated on for six hours to remove the tumour and then she spent three days in an induced coma.

One thing seems clear - Alex and Lee had to fight to save her life - not that they knew that at the time - but that is what it was. If they had been less insistent - less determined to get Alex the right treatment then she might have died. Would other less confident people have managed to save her life that day?

Alex has since had two more operations after the tumour grew back as well as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Alex believes that the MRI scanners at the Royal Berkshire hospital were not working properly during that critical period - hence the delay in getting that first appointment in good time. She told me that the national standard for getting MRI scans for people with her symptoms is six weeks. Obviously - even if they had met the six week target then it could have been too late for Alex. They also told me that the type of headache she was experiencing is one of the top symptoms for a brain tumour.

Alex is equally sure that it was the specialist neurosurgeon Mr Stewart Griffiths - at the John Radcliffe Hospital who saved here life that day.

Today Alex is back at work and the family operates as normally around the girls as they can but Alex and Lee are careful not to say that mummy is getting better.

They are careful about what they say around the children - they are factual about mummy being ill and going to hospital but want to be careful about promising too much unless Lee is one day left to explain what was said and promised.

Alex remembers that when she got home she found herself enjoying the normality of washing up the dishes.

When asked what Alex had taken from all this she said "Really live for the day". What matters now she explained are things like their daughters 'taking' their mother to the station when she goes off to work. Its all about the normal things in life and living or now.