It was May 3, 2006, and Vicky Thorne had just given birth to her first daughter, Iona-May – nine weeks prematurely.
The troubled tot was diagnosed with quadriplegic cerebral palsy as a result of a complicated birth, with doctors at one point giving her only 72 hours to live.
But a few weeks later, brave Iona-May was still fighting on, much to the surprise of her family.
Vicky, of East Preston, West Sussex said: “We first visited Chestnut Tree House when Iona-May was just a few weeks old.
“We’d been told it was a matter of days so we were advised to take a look and see if it was right for us to spend our last hours there with her.
“We went to look and we’re amazed at the beautiful setting, the friendly staff and beautiful building, we felt at home and so had her moved from the specialist care baby unit to the hospice.”
While at the Poling-based facility Vicky was able to bond with her little girl, feed her, take her for walks and sit in the centre’s specially-designed sensory room.
“Believing her to only have a few days to live we were grateful for every minute and every memory made, but as time went on it became apparent that Iona-May had other plans,” Vicky said.
After three months at the hospice, Iona-May stunned everyone, being allowed to go to her home in Roundstone Drive, with Chestnut Tree nurses helping the family to adjust every step of the way. Iona-May spent the next seven years under the hospice’s care.
For 14 nights a year, Chestnut Tree House offered Vicky and the family some respite care, as well as a few hours a month of community care for Iona-May – all for free.
“Over the years we built up such a bond with many of the staff there, they will always be part of our family, because that’s what it’s like at Chestnut Tree House, one big family,” she said.
Vicky got to experience, first-hand, the ‘amazing’ care given by staff – from the nurses to the kitchen staff – to children and their parents.
Tragically, Iona-May died in October, last year.
But in spite of the youngster’s death, the hospice was still there to support the family, offering them the special ‘Stars’ room to spend some quiet, intimate moments with their little girl before her funeral.
“I struggle to find the right words to describe the efforts the staff put in to make us comfortable in these last days,” she said. “In all the time I’ve spent in the house I’ve never wanted to see ‘the room’.I don’t know why I just never felt I needed to until the day I might have to.” To join the Chestnut China Challenge, trekking part of the Great Wall of China visit the hospice’s website at www.chestnut-tree-house.org.uk or call 01903 706355.