Six-year-old Willow Gardner has a constricted windpipe, which makes it difficult to breathe – especially in the cold. But thanks to Satan’s Little Helper, she’s been given a device that makes a big difference.
It’s winter. It’s cold. The wind slaps you across the face with frozen delight. Now, imagine each breath hurts. It feels like you’re breathing through a straw – and then the panic sets in.
That’s what it’s like to be Willow Gardner, a six-year-old with a condition called tracheal stenosis.
“Her windpipe is 55% smaller than other girls her age and it impacts her daily,” says her mum Dawn. “She can’t breathe properly, especially in winter, because the cold constricts her windpipe. When that happens, she has a type of asthma attack and needs a steroid injection to her throat.”
So cold it hurts
It’s safe to say that Willow’s condition is serious. She’s in hospital at least once a year. She’s had pneumonia six times and any infection can lead to a trip to the emergency department.
“She was less than six weeks old and started vomiting bile, as she had an infection in her lungs. Because nobody knew the cause, surgeons put a scope down her throat to see what was wrong – that’s when they saw how small her windpipe is.”
Since that first procedure, Willow has had 18 more. Some bigger, such as stent insertions, others exploratory, using a scope.
The good news is that Willow’s throat has grown by 3mm since she was born. It doesn’t sound like much but, as Dawn explains, is pretty significant.
“Oh look, it’s something! I’ve been told that most people with stenosis don’t see any growth, so 0.3cm is considered pretty good.”
Wait and see approach
However, if progression is limited in the next six years, Willow will have to undergo more surgery.
“She may end up with a fake windpipe made of silicon, which will force her throat wider.”
Because of her condition, Willow often misses out on social events. So, Satan’s Little Helper created an event especially for her, some family and friends at Mega Air.
“It was incredible,” says Dawn. “We took Willow’s cousin and a couple of her friends. It was amazing for her to have some time socialising. We let her pick who came and it made her feel special. Plus, the exercise is really good for her lungs.”
That’s not all. Satan’s Little Helper also hooked Willow up with a Vicks vaporiser, which Dawn says is “amazing”.
“She calls it her wizard steam machine,” she laughs. “I’ve put it in her bedroom and it really helps open her windpipe without requiring steroids. We don’t have a lot of heating in the house, so it also helps her get a good night’s sleep.
“Before the vaporiser, she’d sometimes spend 30 minutes coughing before she could settle down. Her sleep is also contributing to better behaviour, so we’re very happy.”