National Bereaved Parents Day: Sussex mum shares her story to show parents who have lost a child of any age, and from any circumstance, they are not alone

Chestnut Tree House, the Sussex children’s hospice, is marking National Bereaved Parents Day to show parents who have lost a child of any age, and from any circumstance, they are not alone.

Wednesday, 30th June 2021, 9:17 am

Organised by A Child of Mine and supported by various charities, National Bereaved Parents Day on Saturday, July 3, is about raising awareness and keeping that conversation going.

One couple whose baby son was cared for at the hospice in Poling have shared their story to honour the ‘incredible, passionate care’ the family was given.

Chantelle and Lewis Strudwick, who live in Chichester, lost little Theo at six weeks and two days old, and the last four weeks and two days were spent at Chestnut Tree House.

Chantelle and Lewis Strudwick were able to do a lot of the things they always imagined doing with their son, thanks to Chestnut Tree House

Chantelle said: “Theo was our first child and everything was fine until the day before he was born. There was a problem with the umbilical cord, which meant he was starved of oxygen. I was rushed in for a caesarean, but it was too late. The doctors told me and my husband Lewis that his brain had been severely damaged, that he wouldn’t survive.”

She asked how long Theo would live and was told by the doctors that they did not know.

Chantelle continued: “Theo was in the hospital, but not responding to outside stimulation, only breathing with the help of a machine. After one week we decided to withdraw his breathing tube and let him slip away. But incredibly, Theo began breathing on his own.

“We had no idea what to do. We couldn’t take Theo home – so Lewis and I were stuck in hospital, in Theo’s little room, for hours at a time.

Baby Theo Strudwick was starved of oxygen at birth

“That was when one of the nurses told us about Chestnut Tree House and suggested we go and have a look. I remember driving there with Theo and being amazed to find this huge house tucked away in the trees.

“It felt like a home. There were no sterilised corridors, no tubes, no machines beeping. We were greeted by a lovely nurse with a smile and shown to what would become Theo’s room.

“Chestnut gave Theo a brand-new cot and a teddy bear to put next to him (we’ve still got the bear!). The nurses came and tucked him in, talked to us about Theo, how we wanted to care for him. They gave Lewis and me a room upstairs, but there was a sofa-bed in Hedgehog that we could use whenever we wanted.

“Chestnut became our home. The nurses, and particularly the incredible Mary, showed us how to care for Theo – but they were always there if we needed them.

Chantelle and Lewis Strudwick with their daughter Liberty

“We didn’t know how long we would have with Theo. But, with the nurses’ help, we managed to do a lot of the things we’d always imagined doing with our son before he was born, like visiting the zoo, the aquarium and spending time with family and friends.

“After six weeks and two days, Theo finally took his last breath – and we were there with him. There was no drama, he just gently slipped away.

“Chestnut helped us to organise the funeral and Theo stayed for a few more days in his bedroom – the nurses brought in a ‘cold bed’ so he didn’t have to move rooms. We stayed with him and I read him stories. And the nurses would still pop in to check on him – and us too, of course.”

The family made memories that will last forever before Theo died on November 9, 2014.

Chantelle said: “Losing Theo was the worst experience imaginable. But I can say, with absolute certainty, that in his short life Chestnut Tree House gave him the fullest, richest life he could have possibly had. And the memories we have of our time there with him are ones I will treasure always.”