Countess of Wessex opens new Cots for Tots suite
CLUTCHING her toy Gromit in one arm, little Elizabeth Fowler nervously handed a posy of flowers to the Countess of Wessex.
The two-year-old was given the honour of greeting Her Royal Highness during a visit to officially open accommodation for the families of sick and premature babies.
The Fowler family are among the hundreds who have benefited from lifesaving care at the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at St Michael's Hospital after Elizabeth's twin sister required heart surgery when she was just days old. They also raised thousands of pounds towards the new facilities visited by the Countess yesterday.
The £1 million Cots for Tots Appeal, which was supported by the Post, added a four-cot suite and state-of- the-art equipment to the NICU as well as a 12-bed home-from-home for the families of the babies who benefit from care on the unit.
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The Countess of Wessex, whose daughter Lady Louise was delivered prematurely in November 2003, took time to talk to the families of babies who are being cared for at the city centre hospital and those who have now left the unit.
Dressed in a white dress and black jacket Her Royal Highness said a few words about how she understood the importance of the new facilities before unveiling a plaque at Cots for Tots House, after being introduced by Grand Appeal trustee and Post editor Mike Norton.
Kay Pullen, matron of the NICU, took the countess on a tour of the unit, where she was introduced to parents and babies currently being cared for there.
"She was very understanding and wanted to know about all the babies," Mrs Pullen said.
"We showed her the old intensive care and the new suite to show her the difference and she could appreciate that. She also spoke to two lots of parents, including a baby with a similar name to hers.
"They were over the moon that she spoke to them.
"It was quite a proud moment."
After visiting the NICU Her Royal Highness was shown the family accommodation across the road and met with other families, including the Fowler twins, who spent their first six weeks in Bristol while Olivia had surgery to correct a heart problem. Their mother Andrea, 35, went on to raise more than £12,000 for the Cots for Tots Appeal, said: "She was lovely, looked incredible and was well-dressed.
"When I found out we would meet her, I knew that she has been in this situation and understands. Just looking at her with Elizabeth you could see she's so good with kids."
Jason and Katie Hoare, of Worle, Weston-super-Mare, brought their son Daniel home for the first time on Friday. But they returned to Cots for Tots House with the youngster – who was born at 33 weeks – and his older brother Josh, three, to meet the royal visitor.
They were able to stay at the accommodation while Daniel was cared for on the unit, which enabled Mrs Hoare, 30, to breastfeed her son.
After meeting her Royal Highness, she said: "It was a privilege to meet her, she was nice and friendly.
"She spoke to me about relating to it because her daughter was early as well, she said that Daniel was bigger than her baby was."
Among the guests who gathered at Cots for Tots House for the official opening were the charity's patrons, including Aardman's Nick Park, who designed the baby Gromit logo used for the fundraising appeal.
"Obviously with Wallace and Gromit it seemed a good match with the children's hospital and then we had the idea to do a baby Gromit.
"I think I had done some pictures of baby Gromit in the past and then it came up as an idea for the cause, for Cots for Tots."
And he said the baby Gromit character "could" appear somewhere else in the future.
"There's definitely a lot of potential there," he said.
Anne Clements, Cots for Tots House manager, showed Her Royal Highness around the family accommodation.
"I felt she was extremely supportive and you could feel the empathy she had for the families involved and their babies. She was so genuine and loved every minute of it because it is very personal and that feeling came across.
"She had time for every family and made them feel important."
Gill Bowen, 62, of Stoke Bishop, has been a volunteer with the Grand Appeal for about 18 years and was among the charity's representatives who met Her Royal Highness.
"It was a privilege to meet her, she was lovely," Mrs Bowen said. "She was talking to the mum next to me and was very interested in the family."
Consultant neonatologist on the unit Pam Cairns said the visit was "a great celebration of the important achievement of raising £1 million."