An 18-month-old girl has become the first child in the UK to be fitted with a mobile Berlin Heart driving unit while she waits for a transplant.
Grace Westwood is being treated at the Freeman Hospital, Newcastle, more than 200 miles from her home in Birmingham.
Last month she was fitted with the fully portable driving unit, meaning she can spend time away from the ward and her parents Becci and Darren can take her for a walk in her pushchair.
The machine looks like a small suitcase and has a battery life of up to eight hours.
The previous unit was heavy and its batteries only lasted up to half an hour, meaning Grace could not be taken far from the ward.
The new technology was developed in an international collaboration and has won an award.
Paediatric consultant Dr Emma Simpson from the Freeman Hospital said: “Our goal was to reduce the stress and impact of a long-term hospitalisation on the children and their families by offering them mobility and autonomy in their daily lives in the hospital environment.”
Grace was born in November 2019 and her battle for life has been made harder by the pandemic.
Mr Greenwood said: “It turned out that Grace was born with an impairment of the left ventricle but for a week it was a mystery what was wrong with her.
“She was so poorly and it wasn’t until we went into Birmingham Children’s Hospital we found out she had a heart condition.”
Grace was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy and in March 2020 she became more severely ill and in May last year she was flown to Newcastle for specialist treatment, while her parents had to travel up separately by car.
She was fitted with a Berlin Heart to keep her alive until a transplant organ becomes available.
Her mother Becci Jones said: “She’s leading as normal a life as she can and is amazing in herself.
“She loves everything and everyone and, while we’ve got to be careful with her, she’s trying to walk, she’s chatty and smiling all the time.”
Mr Westwood said the new unit will make a huge difference to their lives.
He said: “We can take her to the playroom and we don’t have to cut our time short. It’s the little things she’s missed out on – touching the grass, listening to the birds sing, seeing family properly instead of through a window and that’s what we’re looking forward to – although we still have to be careful.”