SAMANTHA Diplock was a typical nine-year-old girl – full of energy and a real lust for life. But all that changed in May 2008 when she suffered a severe stroke. What followed was every parent’s worst nightmare – six months of intensive care at King’s College Hospital in London, a gruelling 19-hour operation, and another six months of rehabilitation. At first she couldn’t sit up properly, her family describing her as a “rag-doll”. Now she walks, albeit slightly off-balance, and is a shining example to classmates at Hillview School for Girls. As the two-year anniversary of that fateful day approaches, Lee Moran spoke to parents Diana and Nick about what they’ve been through and what the future holds
NICK and Diana Diplock laugh, joke and chat like any other couple – but they’ve just been through two terrible years of pain, anxiety and stress.
Their lives were turned upside down in May 2008 when their daughter Samantha, aged just nine, was brought back to life after suffering a near-fatal stroke while at school. “It completely changed our lives. One day we’re an ordinary family and then we’re thrown into chaos,” said Diana. “It’s been unbelievable but we’re coming out of this. We’ve got to be strong for our girl, who’s shown us to go for what we wantt. We can’t be broken people any more.”
It was a normal Friday when Diana dropped Samantha off at St Stephen’s Primary School in Tonbridge. But as classes were drawing to a close the bubbly blonde-haired youngster started screaming out in pain, complaining she couldn’t see, before passing out.
Amidst the chaos and panic, Melanie Eager, a teaching assistant with a basic knowledge of first aid, sprang into action, carrying her into the school’s music room where she successfully resuscitated her. Samantha was rushed to Kent and Sussex Hospital in Tunbridge Wells where an initial scan revealed she’d suffered a severe brain haemorrhage.
Doctors ordered her to be transferred to King’s College Hospital in London to be stabilised. The rapid response team has since admitted it didn’t think Samantha would make it alive to London, where she was “lost” and brought back to life several times on the operating table, before spending two weeks in a coma.
“We were told to expect the worst. We just didn’t know what to do. It was a horrible time, we felt so helpless. She eventually started to wake up but her body movement was very slow, she was like a rag doll,” said Diana.
The haemorrhage, which doctors said would probably happen again if she did not have corrective surgery, was caused by a rare malformation of the arteries in her brain. Samantha found it difficult to speak, impossible to eat, and was fitted with a tracheostomy so she could breathe through a hole in her windpipe.
She made steady progress but the rogue arteries remained, leading her parents to give the go-ahead for a further, risky, 19-hour operation in August 2008, which thankfully proved a success.
Two months later she transferred to the specialist Children’s Trust in Tadworth, Surrey, for six months of brain injury rehabilitation and after making outstanding progress she came home in May 2009 to resume lessons at Hillview School for Girls.
“The school has been brilliant, we can’t knock them. They’ve done everything to help, she has her own teaching assistant, and her friends have been great in treating her normally. She can’t eat in the canteen as she’s still fed through tubes in her stomach because the muscles in her throat aren’t strong enough. But friends go with her to a room, play on the Wii, and if she was annoyed she’d let us know, and as she doesn’t moan about school they must be doing a good job.”
Asked when Samantha, who has two older sisters, would be able to eat properly again, Diana said: “That’s the big question. We don’t know whether it will sort itself out as she gets older. She might need medical intervention. There’s a procedure out there but it’s not been approved in Britain so we’ll have to wait and see.”
Diana, who gave up work two years before the incident and now works full-time as her daughter’s carer, said Samantha was still slightly off-balance when walking and needed a wheelchair when tired. “But she’ll keep on going until the last, she’s very strong-willed. “This has made her very determined. She lost a year and I think she wants it back.”
Melanie Eager, who saved Samantha’s life, was hardly known by the Diplocks before the tragic events – now she is seen as part of the family. “She saved her life and if it wasn’t for her she wouldn’t be here. Mel’s really been amazing. Samantha doesn’t know everything that happened that day and just thinks of her as a friend. They go off and have fun days together and they get on really well.
“One day she’ll know what she did for her but it’s too much for her to understand at the moment.”
Nick remained fairly quiet during the interview, happy for his wife to take the lead. But the subject which fired him up was the lack of services available to Samantha in West Kent since they left the Children’s Trust.
“We have to fight a lot. We leave here, where we’re almost too well looked after, and once we’re home, bang, we’re on our own,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who takes up our case, there’s always an excuse as to why she can’t have a play therapist, which is essential in helping her progress. We nearly had one but she had to go on unexpected leave so we’re back at square one. We also don’t have anyone to reassure us and offer support. We’d love to speak to people who have been in the same situation.”
As our time in the immaculate canteen at the Children’s Trust drew to a close, I asked what the future held for Samantha, who’d been busy packing goodie bags for the charity’s London Marathon runners while we talked.
“She goes through phases and I think she’s still too young to know exactly what she wants to do. At the moment she wants to work in a supermarket, but only part- time,” Diana said. “She’s looking forward to helping out at the new Children’s Trust charity shop in Tonbridge. They’ve said she’ll sort the toys coming in, which she’ll love, but she’ll probably want to keep some of the ones she likes."