Defying life’s odds – he’s our little miracle

Oliver Shanks with mum Alexandra Quennell and dad Anthony Shanks.
Oliver Shanks with mum Alexandra Quennell and dad Anthony Shanks.

Aged just two, little Oliver Shanks has already been through more than most adults could ever experience in a lifetime.

The tot, described by his family as the most courageous boy and a little miracle, has endured a tough battle since he was born, but has never given up and continues to fight.

The youngster, from North Broomhill, arrived into the world on June 14, 2014 – three-and-a-half months early and weighing just 1lb 14½ozs.

This tiny premature newborn was given a maximum 50 per cent chance of survival and had CPR to bring him back from the brink after suffering respiratory arrest.

Since that time, he has endured a number of major surgeries, having most of his small intestine removed, and has needed multiple blood and plasma transfusions.

Oliver has cerebral palsy, brain damage, chronic lung disease and epilepsy and needs to take a daily cocktail of medication.

He is tube-fed and wheelchair-dependent, unable to ever walk, talk or see properly. Further surgery is to come.

But despite all the difficulties that life has thrown at him, Oliver has stayed strong. He is a cheery lad who smiles at everyone. And he continues to amaze medics by the way he keeps bouncing back, often against the odds.

In the words of his loving parents – Alexandra Quennell, 23, and Anthony Shanks, 24 – he is wonderful, brave and amazing. And it’s this courageous battle against adversity which has seen Oliver nominated for the Matthew Phillips Child of Courage prize, as part of this year’s Best of Northumberland awards.

The accolade honours a child who has shown exceptional bravery, overcome great odds or made huge sacrifices.

It is one of a number of prizes up for grabs in our annual awards – a celebration of unsung heroes – while nominations are being encouraged for all of the categories.

Oliver has been nominated for Child of Courage by a number of people and his parents are touched that their son – their only child – has been recognised in this way.

Alexandra said: “Oliver screamed the moment he was born, right before he arrested, and we believe this was him showing how much of a fighter he was going to be.

“He now weighs just over 19 pounds and he’s had well into double figures of blood transfusions. He’ll forever take medicines every day and he’ll always need his wheelchair.

“He still can’t support his head, he can’t sit, he can’t roll, he can’t crawl, he can’t eat. He may never do any of those things. But what I know for certain is he is strong and is exactly who he is meant to be and, to us, that person is amazing.”

Without doubt, Oliver is amazing. After he was born, the tot was rushed into a special care baby unit. He was so fragile, he stayed in his incubator for almost 10 weeks.

Alexandra said: “Oliver’s skin was so thin he was purple and almost see-through. He was put into a plastic bag to keep as much heat in as he could. He went through many twists and turns within those first 10 weeks, we sat by his incubator praying he would keep fighting and survive. Six days after he was born, we were allowed to have our first cuddle with him. At one month and one day old, he smiled at us for the first time.”

During the early stages of his life, Oliver’s stomach swelled and he was treated for necrotising enterocolitis (NEC) – a serious illness in which tissues in the intestine become inflamed and start to die. He was treated and recovered.

But things took a turn for the worse when he was 10 weeks old. Alexandra said: “His body ballooned in size and his stomach was so large all his veins had become visible. He was on the highest possible level of his ventilator and we were told he had a very bad case of NEC and the likelihood of him surviving was almost impossible. We had a split-second decision as to whether to Christen our son as he was about to have a large section of small intestine removed, as this was his last hope of survival. We agreed. In minutes, the vicar came; no family had the chance to be there.”

Over that next month or so, Oliver had six major operations to save his life, leaving him with less than 10cm of small intestine. He needed a special fluid, which affected his liver and left him yellow in colour for some months.

Oliver has had many admissions to hospital since. Last year, his epilepsy had become so aggressive that he was having a minimum of 10 tonic–clonic seizures a day, where he would stop breathing and turn limp and blue. He spent more than a week in hospital to control the seizures with a high dose of different medicines.

This year, Oliver contracted two separate bouts of severe pneumonia, but thankfully survived both ordeals.

Oliver will soon have an operation to have a gastrostomy, which is a surgical opening through the abdomen into the stomach. This will allow him to have his nasogastric tube, which he currently uses for nutritional support, removed.

Alexandra said: “Oliver has been well since May and is smiling away. Everyone who meets him comments on how much of a happy little boy he is.”

Alexandra and Anthony have decided to support Tiny Lives and the Sick Children’s Trust. With the help of the public, £3,000 has been raised and split between the two causes. Alexandra said: “These charities are very close to our hearts.”