HEALTH: The day my daughter stopped breathing

Emma HarrowingHolly Cleveland was a normal two year old, until one evening last November when she suddenly stopped breathing. EMMA HARROWING talks to Holly's mum about the night she was diagnosed with a rare condition.Emma Harrowing

Holly Cleveland was a normal two year old, until one evening last November when she suddenly stopped breathing. EMMA HARROWING talks to Holly's mum about the night she was diagnosed with a rare condition.

As Tina Cleveland got ready for an evening out with her husband Ray she was full of anticipation as to what the evening would have in store.

They were going for a dinner party at a friends' house near their home in Gorleston, their children Ryan and Holly had been dropped off at Tina's sister's house for the night and both Tina and Ray were looking forward to an evening in adult company for a change.

Neither of them expected the evening to turn into a parent's worst nightmare.

Says Tina: 'We had dropped the children off at my sister Nicola's at about 7pm. As soon as we got there the kid's were running around with Nicola's step son Alex. We left to go home to finish getting ready and as we got to the front door I could hear the telephone ringing.'

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Tina didn't get to the phone in time but on the answer phone was a message that send chills down her spine. The message was from Nicola's step-son Alex urging them to come back as their two year old daughter Holly was in trouble.

'As we listened to the message Roy (Nicola's husband) arrived at the door,' recalls Tina. 'He had just dropped Holly and Nicola off at the James Paget. Holly had stopped breathing and they couldn't do anything to resuscitate her. It was the stuff of nightmares.'

When Tina and Ray got to the hospital Holly was on a heart monitor and was having gas and air.

Says Tina: 'Her favourite sleep suit had been cut off her and she looked pale. She was crying and had her arms outstretched as if she couldn't see me. It was hard to believe that just a few minutes earlier she was running around with her cousin. It was very traumatic I thought she was going to die. I couldn't imagine life without my perfect little girl.'

Holly gradually calmed down as Tina cradled her daughter in her arms. Doctors carried out blood tests and Holly was transferred to the Children's Ward for the night.

The results of the blood tests showed that Holly was suffering from Reflex Anoxic Seizures (RAS) a condition that is similar to epilepsy which causes a lack of blood from the heart to the brain. This causes the heart to temporarily stop and the sufferer to stop breathing and start fitting. It can be brought on by stress, pain, excitement or tiredness.

'Holly seizure was brought on by the excitement of running around with her brother and cousin,' says Tina. 'Nicola told me that as she was playing she lightly bumped her head on the door frame as she walked through the kitchen door, which triggered an attack.'

The next evening Holly had another fit.

Says Tina: 'Holly was brushing her teeth and as I took her toothbrush off her she started to cry. Then suddenly her whole body went limp, her eyes rolled back and she went deadly pale. Then her arms and legs started to shake and make jerking movements. The seizure lasted for about 30 seconds but it felt like forever. I just didn't know what to do.'

Tina called the ambulance and Holly was kept in a ward overnight for observation.

Since Holly has been diagnosed with RAS she has suffered from many seizures and there is no way of knowing when the next one will happen. Says Tina: 'Holly can have one fit a day for a week and then we could go for four to six weeks without one. Usually she fits at the end of the day and once she has had one we know that she will soon have another seizure as they usually happen in quick succession.

'Doctors have told us how to deal with her RAS, she is not on any medication and the only thing we can do is be with her until the seizure passes.

'We try to lead the same life as before. Although we know that Holly's seizures could be brought on by too much excitement or tiredness, we still want her to lead a normal life and to play like any other two year old. Doctor's have told us that Holly could grow out of her illness but if not she will learn how to deal with them herself.'

For more information about RAS visit the RAS support group online