David Aibuki looks like any normal, healthy, happy five-year-old boy. He’s a bit shy when we first meet but warms up quickly when I start talking about Christmas.
His little brown eyes light up when he tells me he asked Santa to bring him a gold racing car for his present this year.
I ask David if he was a good boy to deserve his gift and he replies “Yes!”
His smile fills the room.
I don’t know if David was good. But I know he was extremely brave.
He is sitting on a bed in a specialist children’s ward at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington. David was taken here two weeks ago and admitted to the hospital’s PICU (pediatric intensive care unit) during what his mother describes as a “terrifying” ordeal.
David has sickle cell disease. His mother Bola Aibuki is watching him very closely and when he told her he was in excruciating pain, saying his “bones were broken”, she knew his little body was under attack.
She took him to her local hospital where doctors diagnosed him with the flu. This meant that with his underlying health issues, David was in excruciating pain and his health was at serious risk.
“David would never say if he’s in pain, I’d just assume he’s in pain. But once David said my bone was cracking, I knew something was wrong with him,” he told me. Bola.
Managing David’s condition can be difficult at the best of times, but the additional infection made David very ill. It was a scary time for his family.
Bola described his fear to me: “It was terrifying, I can’t even hold myself back. I was trying, the nurses were really doing their best to distract me but just me looking at my own son lying there helpless. is too much really for any mom to go through.”
Shortage of beds
Doctors at University Hospital of West Middlesex turned to St Mary’s Specialist Pediatric Care team for their expertise.
David was placed in the care of Dr. Liz Whittaker. She immediately recognized the complexity of David’s case and performed an urgent blood transfusion to help David’s body fight off the infection.
“We have many, many children coming in, they’re all very sick, there’s a shortage of beds,” Dr Whittaker explained.
“We are always concerned about flow, we try to get everyone moving through the system so that every child can get the care they need. We have community treatment in place to make sure we have access to get patients out of the hospital.
“But November is always a stress point and anything we can do to try to limit the number of patients is a very good thing.”
Hospital flu cases up 10x from last year amid ‘triple epidemic’ warning
NHS leaders are more concerned about this winter than any previous
Influenza infections are on the rise again, with young children most affected
“Pediatric winter” in progress
Children’s doctors say “pediatric winter” is well underway. November is usually when cases of RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) increase.
They are already seeing it in hospitals. And once RSV cases go down, the flu starts to spread. So there is no respite for doctors like Dr. Whittaker and his team.
Senior pediatricians told me that there was a serious shortage of PICU beds, especially in the south of the country.
Dr Whittaker said that in his hospital there was “one patient out and one patient in”. Data from NHS England appears to show there were just 33 spare PICU beds available in the country as of Thursday. That’s less than at any time last winter.
Health analysts say this increase in winter respiratory cases was to be expected. Mitigation measures during the pandemic meant that influenza and RSV had no chance of spreading as they normally do. But it also means that most young children have never been exposed to these viruses before.
David is recovering well and can’t wait to get home to spend Christmas with his family and looks forward to his golden racing car.
But Dr. Whittaker and his team know that David’s bed won’t stay empty for long.