A north-east mum told today how her family holiday in Turkey turned “terrifying” after her baby son was hospitalised with suspected pneumonia.
Ten-month-old Thomas Joiner Stewart fell ill a few days into the break at the resort of Marmaris and was taken to hospital with breathing difficulties.
As his condition worsened, medics told distraught parents Audrey and Mark that their little boy’s life was at risk if he flew home to Scotland.
Audrey, 31, said: “The doctor put it bluntly to us – ‘Thomas fly, Thomas die’. It broke our hearts.”
The Blackburn family’s holiday nightmare began soon after they arrived at the hotel.
Thomas had developed a sore eye which Audrey thought was due to the sun cream or the heat.
But his health took a turn for the worse two days later when he spent the entire night coughing.
Audrey said: “I took him down to reception and I told them I wasn’t happy – I wanted a doctor to see him because he was up the whole night coughing.
“He was trying to cry, there were tears coming out of his eyes but there was no sound coming out of his mouth. I just knew that something wasn’t right.”
A doctor was called and she ordered staff at the hotel to phone an ambulance.
Audrey said: “I said to her, ‘normally that would mean an emergency’. She said to me ‘Yes, it is an emergency’. That just made it even more scary.”
Doctors at AHU Hastanesi Hospital in Marmaris discovered small pockets of fluid in Thomas’ lungs and diagnosed suspected pneumonia, bronchitis and laryngitis and kept him in overnight.
Audrey said the language barrier made things even more frightening.
“None of them could really speak to us. We had no idea what was happening,” she said.
“We would get to speak to an interpreter every morning between 9am and 10am for 10 minutes only.
“Any questions you would have later on you would have no idea.
“We just wanted to go back home and have Thomas looked after in our own country.”
After two days in hospital the family hoped Thomas might be able to return home.
However, doctors delivered a bombshell, explaining the pressurised cabin on a plane would make Thomas’ condition worse – and could even prove fatal.
In the end, friends of Audrey and Mark turned to the internet, launching a crowdfunding campaign to raise the £7,000 required to fly Thomas home with a specialist medic at his side.
Within a day they had reached their target – after one anonymous donor handed over £5,000.
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The Turkish hospital agreed to discharge Thomas on the condition once the family landed in Edinburgh they would head straight to Edinburgh’s Royal Hospital for Sick Children.
Audrey said: “The doctors in Edinburgh told us that the nebuliser helped clear his lungs from the fluid.
They also said that the air conditioning, when it’s on through the night and you’re just sleeping, goes straight for your lungs and it dries them up.
“But for a baby with lungs that aren’t as big or strong like an adult, he wasn’t able to fight it off the same way an adult can.”
Along with caring for Thomas, Audrey and Mark also had to look after brother son Dylan, 13, and Talia, 3.
Audrey said: “It was difficult, because Dylan has Autism, and we really had to make sure that we kept him calm, and Talia didn’t get her holiday because she was always at hospital with mum and dad.”
Audrey said she hopes more parents understand the risks of air conditioning on small children.
She added: “I want to raise awareness so that this doesn’t happen to another child.
“When you’re on your transfer bus from the airport to the hotel the Thomas Cook representative warns you not to drink the tap water.
“They advised you of things – why not advise us about the air conditioning. This has been the scariest time of my life.”
A spokesman for Thomas Cook said: “The safety of our customers is always our first priority. We regularly audit our hotels to ensure they meet our strict criteria.
“We have not received any other reports of illness linked to air conditioning but are looking into these concerns with the hotel.
“Our resort team did all they could to support Mr and Mrs Stewart when their son became ill.”