“For that short time she completed us as a family, and I felt like I could take on the world.”
The heartbreaking words of a grieving mum who has vowed to honour her baby girl’s memory – by fighting to give others a chance at life.
My Isla was a fighter...I want others to have a chance at life
Little Isla Elizabeth Leaf was born with a rare heart disease and suffered a cardiac arrest and two bleeds on her brain before she died on January 22, at just six weeks old.
In that time she was given constant blood transfusions – enough to replace her entire bloodstream in just four days – that meant she kept fighting until the very end.
Now mum Louise Threlfall, a college lecturer from South Shore, is campaigning to get more people to donate blood and help give other babies a chance to “fight their corner”.
The 31-year-old said: “She was that missing link between us all.
“It didn’t matter to me that she was a little bit imperfect – I would have had her whichever kind of way.
“She put in a good fight. She was clinging on.
“But she just wasn’t ready for it – she seemed to be making slow progress every day, but she just needed so much blood.”
Doctors knew there was likely to be something wrong with Isla’s heart even before she was born, but it was not until she arrived at Manchester Royal Infirmary on December 11 that they were able to properly diagnose her.
She was born with a trunk heart – a rare congenital heart defect that meant she had one blood vessel coming from her heart, where most people have two.
Louise, who has a three-year-old son called Jack with partner Darran Leaf, added: “They thought it was something they could fix.
“Everybody was optimistic and there was only a very small chance she might not do very well in the surgery because she was very little.”
After responding well in the first few days, doctors sent mum and daughter home in time for Christmas, but said Isla would need open heart surgery if she was to have any chance of survival.
When she started getting breathless, Isla was admitted to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, in Liverpool, for the operation.
Louise added: “She came out of surgery at 10pm and they said it was a success in that it seemed to fix her heart.
“But the level of cortisone in her body – a stress indicator – just kept rising
“They put her on heart and lung bypass in the early hours of the morning.”
But her condition continued to deteriorate and Isla suffered two bleeds on the outside of her brain and went into cardiac arrest.
“They sent her for an MRI and they noticed she had an underlying cardiomyopathy.
“Even though they had fixed her trunk heart, that’s what was eating up all the blood cells.
“Being at Alder Hey on the intensive care ward is traumatic. It’s like a living hell.
“One morning at 4am they rang me and said she was having a cardiac arrest.
“I just dropped the phone – I have never run so fast in all my life.
“I really did think that was it, but she fought on for another week.
“But the day they closed her chest up was the day she decided ‘you have messed around with me too much’.”
But after making friends with other mothers in a similar situation during her time at the hospital, Louise said she is determined to use her experience to help others.
She added: “I just want something positive to come from her misfortune.”
After arranging a special blood donation session in Isla’s memory, Louise was able to fill all 26 slots in a matter of days.
But she said other publicly available appointments are still available at St Paul’s Church on June 17, and urged people to register to give blood.
She said without the blood given to her, Isla “would not have been able to fight”.
She added: “I never really understood the significance of it until all this.
“The problem they have got at the moment is getting new donors.
“I know a lot of people have a fear of needles, but if you look at that feeling compared to what it means to the person on the other end, it’s nothing.”
Giving blood takes around an hour, and each donation can help up to three people.
For more information, appointments and to register, call 0300 123 23 23, or visit www.blood.co.uk