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Mum shares memories of Cwtsh Clos Christmas

Lisa and terrace

She wasn’t the first new mum worried about finding accommodation at Christmas time but when Lisa John found somewhere, it was far nicer than a stable.

Lisa in NICU When Lisa’s son, James, decided to enter the world 10 and a half weeks early in December 2022, she required an emergency C-section, which saw her admitted to Singleton Hospital while her son was transferred to its neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Lisa was well enough to be discharged on Christmas Eve, but was fraught with the thought of having to travel home 60 miles to St Clears, in West Wales, while her tiny son fought for his life.

Fortunately, NICU staff saved the day by gifting her the keys to a home in the hospital grounds, so she was just across the road from her baby.

The 42-year-old single mum is sharing her story now in a bid to support our Cwtsh Clos campaign, which aims to raise £160K to refurbish and re-equip NICU’s terrace of five two-bedroom homes.

Well-used over the years, the houses are now in real need of a facelift - particularly their interiors - to ensure they can continue to offer a warm and welcoming home-from-home for parents during this stressful time.

Lisa said: “When I was discharged from hospital, I was in a state of shock. 

“Where was I going to stay on Christmas Eve? I couldn’t leave my son, but I had nowhere to go. 

“Obviously I could have gone back to St Clears, but the panic of leaving him was unreal. 

“I couldn’t drive, after the C-section, so I would have had to rely on my family to drive me back and forth, which would have restricted the amount of time I would have been able to spend with him. I cried thinking ‘How am I going to do this?’

“I spoke to the nurses in NICU and they said, ‘Actually, we’ve got a house available.’

“’Would I qualify?’ I asked.

“They said, ‘Yes, let's get this sorted.’”

The bond between mother and baby – and how vital it is to be near - is perfectly summed up by Lisa.

She said: “My sister and I went to view the house on Christmas Eve. I still couldn't walk very far following the operation, so I was in a wheelchair.

“As my sister wheeled me across the road, she pulled me backwards away from the hospital. I was getting further and further away from James. My eyes were fixed on the ward window. 

“I was distraught and sobbing, thinking, ‘Oh my God, I'm leaving him. I can’t leave him.’ Then my sister said, ‘At least you’re only over the road.’

“If I’d have had to drive home, I don't know what I would have done. I probably would have had to look for a hotel, but I didn't have the money for that.

“It was a beautiful little house. It gave me a little bit of home. A place to decompress from the stress of the NICU. 

“I knew eventually I would be strong enough to walk across the road. 

“Being so close gave me independence and control over the little things such as when I visited James, how long I spent on the ward with him. 

“I didn’t have control of anything else, but this was now in my power.”

The value of having a home at your disposal soon came into focus.

Lisa said: “On New Year's Eve, James was really poorly fighting an infection, and I was told he needed a lumbar puncture. A procedure that needed to be precise and if there were one mistake, it could have been devastating. 

“My sister who was visiting, was about to leave, but having the house meant she could stay with me that night. 

“She cancelled all her plans, and we spent New Year's Eve in the hospital with him, by his incubator. We then walked across the road, back to the house after midnight.

“Staying so close was invaluable because it was one less thing I needed to worry about.”

In all Lisa spent three weeks in the house.

She said: “It looked like I'd moved in when my parents came to collect all my things.”

Although the kitchen at the time had the bare minimum it made a huge difference.

She said: “The kitchen facilities are basic, but they're all you need. You know you buy take-away if you really want to, but having a microwave, toaster, kettle, and fridge freezer was perfect! That's all I needed.

“Having the fridge freezer also meant I could eat healthily, which was so important to my recovery. My mother cooked me meals which I could store in the freezer. It just took the pressure off.”

The bathroom, similarly, served its purpose.

Lisa said: “There was a problem with the shower, but boys came out to fix it the next day.

“The house offered me a little bit of home. I'd spend all day over in NICU and when I'd come back across the road, to the house, I could have dinner, sit on the sofa, and watch some telly. A home comfort that definitely helped my healing.

“You've got no control when your child decides to come into the world. You've got no control of what's happening in NICU. You've got alarms going constantly and you’re trying to understand all of the new medical terminology that is being used. 

“Having a house across the road meant I had control over something; I had control over when I could see my son. I didn’t have to waste 2 hours a day travelling. That was huge for me. The house was a complete lifeline, it really was.”

James, who was born 2lbs 6oz, is now coming up to 15 months old and doing well. Lisa John and James

Lisa said: “The staff encourage you to spend as much time as you can with your little ones on NICU; especially giving Kangaroo Care (skin to skin), as it can help improve recovery time and help babies leave the NICU sooner. 

“We were given a ‘most cuddled’ certificate to celebrate the amount of time I was able to spend doing this. I couldn’t have done that if I wasn’t staying so close. I fully believe it helped with his recovery and I am so grateful for the gift of being able to stay in Cwtch Clos.”

Helen James, matron neonatal services, said: “It’s heart-warming to hear Lisa talk about how being given the keys to a house in Cwtsh Clos made her situation that little bit more bearable.

“Parents understandably want to be close to their babies whilst they are being nursed on the neonatal unit. 

“Lisa’s support will help us towards our total target to be able to ensure that these homes remain available to many more families in the future.”

If you would like to give an online donation to Cwtsh Clos, you can do that by clicking here.

To make a donation using your phone, please text 'Donate Swanseabayhealth homes' to 88802.

If you would like to fundraise for us yourself, or hold a fundraising event, please visit our JustGiving page for Cwtsh Clos here, where you will find more information.

You can also visit our Cwtsh Clos webpage for more information about the NICU centre and the fundraising appeal.

Thank you for your support!

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Swansea Bay Health Charity

Are you interested in raising money to support NHS services in Swansea and Neath Port Talbot? Did you know that Swansea Bay University Health Board has its own fundraising charity?

Swansea Bay Health Charity supports patients, staff and services within Swansea Bay University Health Board. Visit its webpage here to find out more.

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