Megan Bagnall was 16 years old when her sister Libby was diagnosed with a ventricular septal defect which needed urgent life-saving surgery. This is Megan's story
On October the 25th, 2015 my half-sister Libby was admitted to Pembury Hospital with Bronchiolitis at just six months old.
10 days later the hospital had discovered Libby had a very big ventricular septal defect, which can also be referred to as a VSD. She was later admitted to the Evelina Children’s Hospital in London for life-saving surgery.
During this time, I was 16 years old and found the whole situation to be exceptionally surreal.
When you’re a teenager, generally you can feel as though your day-to-day problems are too much at times, whilst you’re trying to grasp the changes in your emotions and understand the individual that you’re either developing into or would rather become.
Because of this, I found it very hard to accept the reality of how serious the situation was and ‘’brushed’’ my emotions under the carpet—so to speak—as a coping method. This caused friction between my brother and myself during this time. He was older and perhaps wasn’t as close to my half-sister as I was. With the frequent visits, I made to my father’s house I was able to develop a bond quite quickly, which is evident to this day if you’re around the two of us. He often refers to the relationship I have with our two sisters to be very different. Mine is that I’m a sister to them, whereas he shares more of an uncle relationship due to the 20-year age gap.
Our family has always been filled with love, support and honesty even though we fall under a ‘blended family’ umbrella, and there is an exceptionally large age gap between us all, (from 27 to 5 years old). We found a way to communicate with each other throughout the country with the power of a WhatsApp group chat and the use of FaceTime for regular updates on Libby’s condition and what the course of treatment would be. Technology was so advanced that we could use it for all of the positive advantages it gave us. We also had access to ECHO which provides support for children and young people with heart conditions, and their families, with tailored information categorised by the relationship. It provided lots of resources from advice to activities.
My mother, who I lived with at the time, was very supportive—she understood my mind frame better than anyone. She made sure that my sixth form knew about what was going on by having meetings or sending regular updates via emails to my head of year. In addition to this, I had an amazing network in both my friends and A-Level teachers.
Face-to-face conversations about my sister were hard without becoming a blubbery mess!
I opted to talk to selected friends on an instant messenger chat because it was easier to be able to establish my thought process and know I could easily put it down when it got to be too much. This also ensured that the number of people that knew was limited, and therefore they didn’t treat me any differently to normal. With this being said, I was only human so the smallest things could make me emotional. When this did happen, one my teachers always provided a safe space for me to go to. As she has for many years through my struggle with anxiety and panic attacks.
We often like to present ourselves as strong individuals, not only for the sake of how people perceive us but also for our family around us. I held my guard up on visitations to the hospital as I knew my parents had a lot on their plate already. Although, I knew they would have consoled me and made me know that my emotions were valid I felt as though I didn’t deserve it when it wasn’t happening to me.
But what we must realise is, we’re only human. Emotions are complicated, but it’s vital that we express them in the way we feel comfortable with doing so. They’re normal.
It’s normal to be sad, it’s normal to be down with your own issues at the same time as having a relative that’s poorly. That doesn’t make you selfish, that makes you human.
There was a moment where Libby grabbed my finger, amongst all of the tubes and machines that she was attached to in her hospital bed and I knew she’d be OK. And that’s what you need to remember if you’re going through a similar situation, that everything will be OK.
Love is a powerful thing, as is communication. They always told us that she’d grow up to be a handful (right after her first bit of chocolate) and she’s full of sass to this day.
Written by Megan Bagnall