Updated: Monday 13 January 2020

Early in 2019, every parents’ nightmare became a reality for the Harris family when, following a seemingly normal winter cold, their 13-month-old daughter Ellie was suddenly fighting for her life.

Ellie’s father, Matt, recalls the experience: “I remember the day well. February 10th, 2019. Ellie had been a little under the weather. Nothing initially to be concerned about just the usual sniffles, cough, varying temperatures and generally off her food. I decided to take her to the out of hours doctor the day before, which provided some reassurance that she was suffering the effects of a winter cold.

“Later that day, we noticed Ellie was deteriorating and showing some particularly concerning symptoms, including seizures. My wife and I immediately rang 999 and moments later both Welsh Ambulance Service paramedics and the Wales Air Ambulance Critical Care crew arrived at the house.”

“It soon became apparent that Ellie was far more poorly than we first envisaged.”

In the short time between the 999 call and the medics arriving at the Harris’ Abercarn home, Ellie had suffered two cardiac arrests.

The call came through just after 8pm, when the existing 12-hour Wales Air Ambulance service finishes operating. Thankfully, the Twilight Car was in operation.

On board the car that evening were Critical Care Consultant Dr Dindi Gill and Critical Care Practitioner, Chris Connor. Dr Gill said: “Ellie was extremely unwell and unconscious on our arrival. The presence of the Twilight Car meant that we were able to rapidly deliver critical care interventions, including an anaesthetic, to improve her oxygen levels and then take her directly to the specialist care she needed. This gave her the best possible chance of survival and recovery.”

After stabilising Ellie at the house, she was conveyed by road to the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff.

Matt continues: “After arriving at the UHW, we thanked the crew for all that they had done, thinking this would hopefully be the last time we would need Wales Air Ambulance’s help. This was not the case. Following treatment in Cardiff, Ellie was diagnosed with a very rare condition – Brugada Syndrome. Due to the seriousness of her condition, it was decided that Ellie would need a further specialist procedure at Bristol Children’s Hospital.”

Brugada syndrome is a rare but serious condition that affects the way electrical signals pass through the heart, causing it to beat dangerously fast. These unusually fast heartbeats, known as an arrhythmia, can be life-threatening.

Due to the urgency of treatment required in Bristol following Ellie’s diagnosis, a few weeks later Wales Air Ambulance once again came to her aid. This time, however, it was the Children’s Wales Air Ambulance who landed at Cardiff and flew the ailing child straight to the waiting specialists in Bristol.

Speaking after Ellie’s treatment, Matt said: “Ellie was taken for immediate surgery when we arrived, where she had an ICD Defibrillator and Internal Epicardial Pacemaker fitted. This undoubtedly saved her life.

“The effects of how the brain damage would affect her were still not clear at this stage as there was a real risk, she may have future developmental issues.”

Almost a year on from her ordeal, Ellie is a thriving two-year-old with bags of energy.

“Since being treated for Brugada Syndrome, Ellie’s health has gradually improved. It has taken a lot of physio and support from both medical professionals and ourselves to get her to where she is today. She has recently started walking unaided again and it is looking likely that she will make a full recovery from the brain damage suffered.

“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that without Wales Air Ambulance, Ellie may not be here today. I cannot begin to thank the medics for everything that they did for our little girl. Ellie is able to do things that any two-year-old can do thanks to the amazing efforts of the medics.”

Dindi added: “I was really pleased to meet Ellie and her family after the event and pay witness to what a great recovery she has made.


“Due to the time of the 999 call, the existing 12-hour Wales Air Ambulance service would not have been available. Thankfully, the winter Twilight Car was in operation as without it the outcome could have been very different. Ellie’s story provides an insight into the benefits of the Wales Air Ambulance expanding to provide a 24/7 service.”