Wish comes true for Crumlin girl Nicole Hamilton, whom doctors described as ‘the sickest child, that lived’.

Co. Antrim girl contracted a rare life-threatening illness, caused by severe infection and complicated by COVID,

By Helen McGurk
Wednesday, 27th April 2022, 1:07 pm
Updated Wednesday, 27th April 2022, 1:07 pm
Nicole Hamilton in hospital last March with a rare life-threatening illness
Nicole Hamilton in hospital last March with a rare life-threatening illness

Last March, Crumlin teenager Nicole Hamilton fell ill with flu-like symptoms, but despite being prescribed two different courses of antibiotics, the then 15-year-old’s condition continued to rapidly deteriorate.

Mum Carole said: “I was working from home and all I could hear, all day long, was her coughing. I knew something wasn’t right.”

After two visits to A&E, Nicole was admitted to The Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children on Easter Sunday 2021. Unable to swallow, she was placed on an IV drip as doctors sought to determine the cause of her illness.

Nicole Hamilton enjoying her recent wish, a shopping spree at Victoria Square, Belfast, granted by Make-A-Wish UK.

“We knew she was getting sicker and sicker – the antibiotics weren’t working,’ said events officer Carole.

“Her infection markers were through the roof. It was at this point that the doctors agreed to do more scans.”

A CT scan detected an abscess on Nicole’s throat and the teenager was rushed to surgery.

“I thought, okay that’s it now, they’ll sort the abscess then she’ll be fine,’” said Carole. “But that wasn’t to be.”

Nicole with her family enjoying her shopping spree

Despite the surgery, Nicole’s condition continued to deteriorate and she was placed on a ventilator. It was then confirmed that Nicole had contracted Covid-19 and, shockingly, so had Carole.

“My husband took over and never left Nicole’s side. Even when I got better, only one of us could be there for Nicole at any one time, so I had to just sit at home staring at the phone. It was very isolating and I didn’t know what to do with myself – I couldn’t think, couldn’t eat, I could barely move.”

Doctors had diagnosed Nicole with lung necrosis, mediastinitis, pericardial effusion and emphysema.

“They’d never seen anything like it in a child in her age,’ said Carole. ‘The infection had taken over her entire body. Her lungs, heart and chest cavity was full of fluid.”

Nicole was placed on life support, and heartbreakingly was given slim chance of survival.

“I could never describe the feeling – when something like that happens to your family,” said Carole. “There’s nothing like the fear, the panic that takes over. Just talking about it brings up that paralysing fear. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”

Fortunately, Nicole began to show signs of improvement and was transferred to the Belvoir Ward in the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children for another two months. She was referred to the wish-granting charity Make-A-Wish UK, which grants wishes for children aged 3-17 facing life-limiting or life-threatening illness.

“At first Nicole thought she didn’t deserve a wish,” said Carole. “She kept saying ‘there are other children much sicker than me’. Consultants had to sit her down and tell her just how poorly she’d been. One of her doctors said that she was the sickest child, that lived, that he’d ever treated.”

Nicole eventually chose a shopping spree wish, to be enjoyed with her whole family, as it was shopping that she missed the most during her prolonged stay in hospital.

Make-A-Wish UK was able to bring Nicole’s wish to life on Good Friday, 2022; the anniversary weekend that Nicole was admitted to hospital.

“She was so anxious in the run up to Easter this year,” said Carole. “She struggles with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) from what happened and has awful flashbacks. Her wish gave her something to focus on and look forward to. The anticipation was part of the magic of the wish.”

Nicole and her family were collected at 10am on April 15 by a surprise limousine which drove them to Victoria Square, Belfast. Nicole was then whisked away by the centre manager for a makeover at Charlotte Tilbury, before enjoying a private personal shopping experience.

“She smiled the entire day. It was all lovely designer clothing – things she’d never buy herself. She felt like royalty. It was pure luxury. She just loved every single minute of it - it was incredible to see her smile after everything she’s been through.”

Although Nicole’s lungs remain affected by her illness, and she may have life-long after-effects, she and her family try to focus on the positive and take it one day at a time.

“Nicole’s wish was a huge confidence boost. It’s helped her change her way of thinking about her illness, because now she has something positive associated with it. It wasn’t just a shopping spree – it meant so much more than that. As a family, we’ll never, ever forget it.”

Jason Suckley, chief executive at Make-A-Wish UK, said: ‘When a child like Nicole becomes critically ill, the joy of childhood is brought to an abrupt end with treatment plans, appointments and worry taking over. The power of a wish helps to revive that childhood, giving young people like Nicole the opportunity to feel pampered and special for the day, creating memories with their family and without worry. Throughout Northern Ireland, another 36 children just like Nicole are living with a critical condition and still waiting for their wish to come true. We believe that they’ve waited long enough.

“With World Wish Day happening on Friday, April 29, now is the perfect time to donate or fundraise and help light up the darkness for more children like Nicole. Please visit www.make-a-wish.org.uk/northern-ireland and help grant life-changing wishes across Northern Ireland and beyond.”