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Isabelle's Story - Christmas Appeal 2021

I’m Nick, Isabelle’s dad, and I’d like to tell you about the wonderful care Derian House gave to my little girl and to ask for your help to make sure every seriously ill child gets the chance to make precious memories with their loved ones this Christmas.

My darling girl Isabelle Rachel Molloy lived for two years and three months.

The happiest days of her short life were spent at Derian House Children’s Hospice.

Isabelle had a very difficult start in life when her mummy – my wife and best friend Rachel – died aged 36, from a very rare complication of pregnancy.

Rachel was full-term with Isabelle, but before she could give birth, she collapsed in front of me in the hospital car park when an artery from her heart burst.

Doctors kept Rach stable long enough for Isabelle to be delivered by emergency caesarean section on 24 April, 2019. Due to the trauma, she suffered significant brain damage. We’d already decided on the name Isabelle Rey, but when it became clear Rach wasn’t going to make it I changed her name to Isabelle Rachel.

Isabelle spent three months in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) before being allowed home to live with me and her big brother James, aged three.

We were still struggling with the loss of Rach but it gave me something to focus on. For the next five-and-a-half months I managed to do relatively normal dad things. We went for walks along the canal and did baby yoga.

James doted on her. Because her other senses were quite limited, Isabelle wanted lots of hugs and would be in my arms almost all the time. I bought a sling and would mow the lawn with her strapped to me.

Isabelle showed small but promising signs of development. She started to smile and life was settled.

But on New Year’s Eve, 2019, Isabelle suffered a cardiac arrest at home. I’d been playing with Play-Doh in the kitchen with James while Isabelle had a nap. I went in to check on her and she was white and lifeless.

I called an ambulance and performed CPR until it arrived. After 25 minutes of CPR we managed to get Isabelle’s heart started again and she was rushed to hospital where we learned she had suffered catastrophic brain damage and her already fragile condition had worsened.

Isabelle never came home after New Year’s Eve and spent months in hospital. It was during this time that the COVID pandemic struck, so she wasn’t allowed visitors, which was difficult for the whole family.

In July, Isabelle moved to Derian House and we saw an improvement almost immediately. She’d always been an unsettled child but for the first time she seemed to relax, which was wonderful.

At Derian there were more cuddles and she was able to use the hydrotherapy pool which she got so much out of. The staff doted on her and treated her like their own. The rules were less strict around visiting and aunties and uncles could come to see her as long as we stayed outside in the wonderful hospice gardens.

We had what would turn out to be Isabelle’s last Christmas at Derian House. I came in with my mum, James and Poppy our dog. The staff had made a bundle of presents for James and we spent a happy afternoon relaxing as a family. We took some photos, which I treasure now.

During the following year Isabelle was in and out of hospital with infections. When we were told the end was near, we came back to Derian House and I was able to stay with her in a family flat. It felt like coming home.

When you’re used to sleeping by your child’s bedside in hospital, it’s hard to put into words how good it feels to have your own space but also be close by.

Isabelle’s condition initially improved – it’s what families call the ‘Derian magic dust’ – but ultimately it proved to be one infection too far and Isabelle died on 10 August, 2021. As she lay in my arms I whispered to her: “Mummy’s got you. I’ve got you here and Mum will show you the way.”

She’s at peace now, that’s how I justified it to James. He says “Mummy and Isabelle are in the sky.” I gave him Isabelle’s favourite bunny and he takes it everywhere.

The day Rachel died, my life changed overnight. We’d been so excited for the future. We’d always wanted two kids and had hoped we’d have a boy and a girl. You never hear about these things happening, ever. For it to actually happen was utterly destroying. It breaks my heart that Rach never got to meet our baby girl.

At Isabelle’s funeral we asked for donations to Derian House. It’s important for me to give back because we know there will be more families like us who need their help.

When we were at Derian House I knew Isabelle was so well looked after that I could relax and just be a dad.

During our stays at Derian we laughed, we smiled, we cuddled up and we made lifelong memories together. This is truly the most precious gift any family with a seriously ill child can receive.

This Christmas we’ll be thinking back to the happy days we spent at Derian House, because those are the times that we treasure most with Isabelle.

The hospice is based in Chorley, Lancashire, but looks after 450 children and young people, like Isabelle, from all across the North West.

Care is free to families, but it costs the charity £5million every year. With just over 10% of running costs coming from the NHS, the charity relies heavily on supporters like you.

Please give whatever you can to help other families make the very most of the precious time they have together, like Derian did for us.