A BABY girl choked to death at just 15 months old after she and her identical twin were born with a one-in-a-million condition.
Hazel Eve Blake began to struggle while having lunch with her mum Sally McKimm at Debenhams after a trip to buy her first pair of shoes.
First aiders rushed to help at the store in Barrow, Cumbria, managing to get her breathing again.
But she died hours later in hospital after suffering a cardiac arrest.
She and her sister Lily underwent emergency surgery at birth for the extremely rare condition tracheo-oesophageal fistula, where oesophagus (the food pipe) isn’t connected to the stomach.
The girls are thought to be just one of only 30 pairs of twins worldwide to be diagnosed with the condition.
And even after their op they could only eat liquidised food.
Mum Sally and dad Aydn Blake said although their daughter’s life was short, they were thankful for every moment they spent together as a family.
Sally, 32, said: “We would do lots together. It’s one thing that we’re so happy about.
“A lot of the time Aydn was a still a student and he had a lot of time off.
“It was brilliant having two and that was one thing that I’ve found really hard.
“Having two and now just having one.”
Hazel was the older sister, born one minute before her sister Lily arrived.
“Hazel loved her sister,” mum Sally recalled.
It was brilliant having two and that was one thing that I’ve found really hard. Having two and now just having one
Mum, Sally McKimm
“She laughed at everything she did.”
Sally enjoyed a “normal” pregnancy but as soon as her girls arrived, doctors realised something was wrong.
They were taken to St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester for emergency surgery to correct the rare defect.
The family spent two months living in Manchester, as their babies recovered following their difficult start in life.
As a result of the op, both girls had to be given liquidised food, and mum Sally said it often took an hour to feed them both.
On September 12, Sally took her daughters into Barrow to Clarks to get them measured for their first pair of shoes.
While having lunch at Debenhams’ restaurant afterwards, Sally noticed Hazel had got into some difficulty.
“I realised she was really struggling, so I shouted for help,” she recalled.
“Lots of people ran over, there was a man and a lady, they seemed to really know what they were doing.”
By this stage a Debenhams worker had got hold of Sally and turned her away, hugging her and shielding her from her daughter’s ordeal.
“They managed to get her breathing again,” Sally said.
“I don’t know how long it was.
“I’m sure it was very quick but it seemed like forever.”
Hazel reached hospital at around 1.30pm that afternoon and doctors worked tirelessly for two hours trying to stabilise her.
But at 3.30pm they told her devastated parents she had gone into cardiac arrest, and there was nothing more that could be done.
Sally said: “I’ve replayed it thousands of times thinking, ‘What could I have done?’.
“But if the hospital couldn’t do anything, what could I have done?
“All the staff were brilliant, all the customers. I do know that they did everything they could.”
Mr Blake, 22, a teacher at Victoria Academy in Barrow, said he and Sally are both still trying to come to terms with their loss.
“It tends to be when I’m on my own,” he said.
“I’ve replayed it thousands of times thinking, ‘What could I have done?’. All the staff were brilliant, all the customers. I do know that they did everything they could
Mum, Sally McKimm
“I don’t get upset around other people, not by choice – I don’t know why but I just don’t.”
Sally added: “I’m the same. I’m finding it a lot easier when we are with family and friends. I do get choked up when we are doing nice things with Lily.”
Hazel’s funeral took place on September 21 and the family raised money for Ronald McDonald House in Manchester, where they were able to stay during the twins’ stay in hospital after they were born.
They have also raised money for Furness General Hospital and the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.
Sally said: “Nothing is going to bring her back but all the little things make us feel better, that we are helping other people in the same situation.”
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