A family has spoken of their heartbreak after one of their baby identical twin daughters choked to death aged just 15 months due to a ‘one-in-a-million’ condition.
Hazel Eve Blake stopped breathing while on a trip to have her first pair of shoes fitted with mother Sally McKimm at Debenhams in Barrow, Cumbria.
Although first aiders managed to get her breathing again, she died hours later in hospital due to a cardiac arrest.
Hazel and sister Lily, younger by one minute, underwent emergency surgery at birth for the extremely rare condition tracheo-oesophageal fistula, in which the oesophagus is not connected to the stomach properly.
Sally McKimm, right, and Adyn Blake, left, have spoken of their heartbreak after losing identical twin daughter Hazel, far left, after she choked on her lunch at Debenhams. Pictured right is sister Lily
Hazel, right, and Lily, left, were born with extremely rare condition tracheo-oesophageal fistula, in which the oesophagus is not connected to the stomach properly
They were one of only 30 pairs twins worldwide known to have the condition and even after surgery they could only eat liquidised food.
Ms McKimm and partner Aydn Blake said although their daughter’s life was short, they were thankful for every moment they spent together as a family.
Ms McKimm, 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. We went to Blackpool, Dalton zoo – the Saturday before she died we went to the zoo. They loved the monkeys the most.
‘It was brilliant having two and that was one thing that I’ve found really hard. Having two and now just having one
‘She just loved it all. Every time we had a day off together we’d sometimes just go to the park or the beach or for a walk. We did a lot of special things.’
Ms McKimm said Hazel loved Lily and liked nothing more than to follow her around wherever she went.
She said: ‘Hazel loved her sister. She laughed at everything that she did.’
After undergoing emergency surgery post-birth, Hazel and her sister could only eat liquidised food. After choking at the restaurant, first aiders helped her resume breathing but she died in hospital hours later
Initially Ms McKimm’s pregnancy was not out of the ordinary. It was only after her daughters were born that doctors realised there was a problem.
Both were taken immediately to St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester for emergency surgery to correct the problem.
Ms McKimm, of Walney, Barrow, said: ‘There are about 30 cases in the world where both twins have got it.
‘I thought they were going to starve to death. But I was told they could have surgery.’
The family spent two months living in Ronald McDonald House in Manchester as the girls recuperated following their difficult start to life.
Because of the trauma of surgery, anything the girls ate had to be liquidised or mashed to a paste.
Ms McKimm said: ‘Hazel liked her food but sometimes it took an hour to feed them both.’
The girls, pictured, had been taken into Barrow by their mother to have their first pair of shoes fitted
On September 12 the mother was in Barrow with Hazel and Lily and had just been to Clarks to get the girls measured for their first pair of shoes.
Afterwards they went to Debenhams in Portland Walk for lunch. As they were eating Ms McKimm noticed Hazel was in some difficulty.
She said: ‘I realised she was really struggling, so I shouted for help – “Could someone please help me?”
‘Lots of people ran over – there was a man and a lady – they seemed to really know what they were doing. They must have had first aid training.
‘I was in such a state I asked them if they would try for me.
‘By this point a lady who worked at Debenhams got hold of me, turned me away, and hugged me while they were trying their hardest to try and help Hazel.
‘They managed to get her breathing again. I don’t know how long it was. I’m sure it was very quick but it seemed like forever. They took us to the hospital.’
Hazel took ill at around 1.30pm. Doctors worked tirelessly for two hours trying to intubate and stabilise her. At 3.30pm doctors told her parents she had gone into cardiac arrest and there was nothing more that could be done.
Ms McKimm said the sisters, pictured, adored each other and losing a child had been ‘the hardest thing’
Ms McKimm 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 his partner are both still trying to come to terms with their loss.
‘It tends to be when I’m on my own,’ he said. ‘I don’t get upset around other people, not by choice – I don’t know why but I just don’t.’
Ms McKimm 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 at St Mary the Virgin Church on Walney.
Donations can still be made to the family’s chosen charities; Ronald McDonald House in Manchester, Furness General Hospital and the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital. They can be dropped off at the Little and Caine offices in Barrow, Dalton or Ulverston.
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.’