A Breath for Life: The unique Lancaster charity offering kids a breath of fresh air

Joseph Wilkin in the chamber with his dad
Joseph Wilkin in the chamber with his dad
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In the mid-1990s, two-and-a-half-year-old Andrew Waddington was taken to hospital with an undescended testicle. During the routine 10-minute operation, he was tragically deprived of oxygen for nine minutes and sustained a life-changing brain injury. He would never walk again.

Inspired by Andrew’s heart-wrenching story, Morecambe-born former nurse, midwife, and part-time lecturer at the British College of Osteopathic Medicine Jane Dean set up A Breath for Life Children’s Charity.

A Breath for Life Childrens Charitys hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber manager Dave Holehouse at the control panel.

A Breath for Life Childrens Charitys hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber manager Dave Holehouse at the control panel.

Established 21 years ago, the charity aims to promote hyperbaric oxygen treatment for children suffering from brain injuries, cerebral palsy, or neurological disorders.

To this day, it remains the only hyperbaric oxygenation facility in the UK and Europe which offers its services to children.

“It was the most horrendous thing I’d ever seen,” said Jane of Andrew’s case. “He was bent like a banana and was making a high-pitched ‘cerebral cry’ which, if you’ve not heard it, is something you never want to hear. I was more sensitive to Andrew because my son was only six month older and I thought ‘there but for the grace of God...’”

Despite her decades of medical training and time spent working in the NHS, Jane had never learned about hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), which is still treated with scepticism by the medical community due to a lack of clinical trials and is not widely available as a treatment on the NHS.

The charitys new hyperbaric chamber.

The charitys new hyperbaric chamber.

Upon hearing of its relatively unstudied but promising potential, however, Jane immediately travelled to Scotland to meet Professor Philip James, the then-emeritus professor of hyperbaric medicine at the University of Dundee. With his help, Jane managed to get access to a rented hyperbaric chamber for Andrew.

His improvement was, according to his parents, miraculous.

Tracing its roots as far back as the 1600s, hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing 100% oxygen while under increased atmospheric pressure. It results in increased oxygen intake which is then carried throughout the body, helping fight bacteria and stimulating the release of substances called growth factors and stem cells, which promote healing.

In 2011, Andrew became the first official associate of A Breath for Life at the age of 18, while his mother Teresa is a trustee of the charity to this day.

“A year after the catastrophe, Andrew was still in an extremely distressed state, so I’d gone back to the drawing board to work out what on earth we could do for this little boy and his family,” explained Jane, 69. “That’s when I first came across hyperbaric oxygenation therapy and it blew us away.

“It’s not a cure - let me stress that - but it improves quality of life unbelievably,” added Jane, with A Breath For Life now offering its services to adults living with neurological dysfunctions from strokes and multiple sclerosis to Parkinson’s Disease. “Oxygen will do no harm, it’s life-giving.

“The most important thing is to stress how unique we are in the UK and Europe,” Jane said of the charity, based in between Middleton and Heysham near Lancaster. “There are other compression chambers but most are dedicated to treating MS, whereas we started out looking to treat children with cerebral palsy.”

Also a published author, whose book ‘To Heal the Sick’ tells the story of working in the health service in Preston during the 1960s, Jane has dedicated her life to trying to help improve the health of others and shows no signs of slowing down in her pursuits.

“It’s so overwhelming touching to see any improvement in children,” she said. “Parents will do anything they can to improve the life of their children, so to have parents thanking you...”

To make a donation to A Breath For Life Children’s Charity, please head to their GoFundMe page at www.gofundme.com/oxygen-for-special-children