Friday, April 28 will be a big day in the Mayell household in Limavady when Noah - the baby of the house - turns one.
It’s a big birthday, and Noah’s mum and dad will make a big deal of it, like all parents, and rightly so.
There’ll be a party with balloons, cake and toys, and pictures to capture precious memories and, like most one year olds, Noah won’t have a clue, or even care what all the fuss is about, and it doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t matter because Noah has been defying the odds of medical experts from the second he was born.
Dad, Kris, calls him “a wee trooper” and, when you hear what Noah has been through, you’ll agree - seven major surgeries inside a year - the first at 12 days old - and countless trips to the hospital. There are lots of other things this brave little boy has battled, but he’s always smiling, according to Kris, and he loves his food.
“He’s a wee pudding,” says Kris, his eyes lighting up at the thought of his son.
Without any warning, on New Year’s Eve, our lives completely changed, but we wouldn’t change a thing and we want to thank everyone who has supported usKris Mayell
Noah is Kris and Jill Mayell’s third child. On New Year’s Eve, last year, Kris and Jill went to Altnagelvin for a scan. Jill was 21 weeks pregnant.
“We went up, like any parent, not expecting to hear anything drastic, but we were told there was a complication, that there was a build-up of fluid.
“We had to come back the next day, New Year’s Day, to be told exactly what it was by a specialist.”
Kris and Jill were told their baby had Dandy-Walker malformation, a malformation of the brain. Noah also had a brain condition in which fluid builds up in the ventricles, eventually developing into hydrocephalus, and possibly crushing his brain.
“It was hard to take in because, like any parent, you don’t want your child to have any type of disability. It was the shock of it,” said Kris.
“And the first thing I did was ‘Google’ it which, was the worst thing, I have to say that because it gives you the worst kind of scenarios.”
When Kris and Jill went back the next day, they wanted to know about the quality of life Noah could expect, asking themselves “can we do this, can we give him what he needs, what Noah needs?”
“Once we got our heads around it, we knew we could do it. We knew we had to,” said Kris.
When Noah was born, in the Royal Hospital in Belfast, he had the best care, with a team in place. The couple were told Noah would not breathe by himself and, once delivered, he would immediately be placed in an incubator.
“We had come to terms with that, that we were not going to get to hold him straightaway,” said Kris.
But, Noah was having none of that and as soon as he was born, he cried.
“No one could believe it, honestly, the doctors, the nurses all in the room - packed with these specialists ready to go - and he cried. They couldn’t believe it.
“One of the nurses even recorded it on my phone. I got to take him to a room while they worked on Jill and that was a big moment, so even from day one he was defying the odds.”
The couple had two days at home with Noah so family and friends could meet their precious little bundle. Their two sons, Jamie (6) and Lucas (4), were given the honour of naming their sibling. They came up with Ben, Jacob and Noah - Noah won their hearts.
At 12 days old, Noah had a shunt inserted, a major surgery. Since then he’s had six further surgeries because the shunt has either failed or become infected. The last shunt inserted was on July 12 last year and is more prone to failure, but “it’s the one that’s worked,” said Kris.
Noah’s doctors are hoping to control his seizures, and find the right medication for him.
“He’s had a tough road,” said Kris, “but he takes it in his stride. He’s getting so spoilt, and everyone knows Noah. He’s always smiling and I’m not just saying that.”
Kris and Jill have seen at first hand how the health service have helped their son survive.
“You always hear about the negative stories, but when you see it on the other side, the things you never expect to happen, to see how amazing they are. When you need their help it’s there, without question.”
Kris said they’ve been told Noah’s development will be delayed. For now, though, it’s one day at a time.
After everything Noah has come through, the family want to help by raising £10,000 for the Belfast charity, Helping Hands, to help the ICU and the Paul Ward in the Children’s Hospital. They’ve held street collections and have two fun days with a variety of activities at Medicare in Limavady planned for April 28 & 29, where Jill’s mum, Daphne Alcorn, works.
“The boys think it’s ‘granny’s shop’!” joked Kris. “The staff have been fantastic, 100 per cent behind it all.”
Kris is also taking on two marathons to raise funds - Belfast next month and Derry in June. Running alongside Kris, is Team Noah, who will do a leg each - Kris’s sister, Cheree Mayell (who has never run before); his cousin Stephen Begley; Jill’s brother Gary Alcorn; and their friends Dermot McDevitt and Andy Hunt.
“The support has been overwhelming. Noah has changed so many lives,” said Kris. “Without any warning, life can change.
“Without any warning, on New Year’s Eve, our lives completely changed, but we wouldn’t change a thing and we want to thank everyone who has supported us and who are helping all the other kids that go to the ICU. The support has been overwhelming.”
Kris also paid special thanks his colleagues at Roe Valley Integrated P.S. in Limavady who he said have been fantastic.
To donate to Kris go online at justgiving.com/fundraising/Kristofor-Mayell
Check out the Facebook page Team Noah