Monday, July 26, 2010

'Scribblings from the Surf' - Devon Life 8/10: Lydia Cross and Help for Heroes

The fourteenth in a series entitled 'Scribblings from the Surf'. For more information on Devon Life, click here. To read the article, see the text below or click to enlarge the pictures of the original article below that. To see the whole series, click here


Barrister and writer Tim Kevan meets an incredible family

Braunton in North Devon is home to some extraordinary people, but none more so than nine year old 
Lydia Cross who, despite having lost both her legs to meningitis when she was two, has been inspiring the nation with her positive attitude and good works. So, too, Lydia’s father Tony Cross who is the Devon co-ordinator for Help for Heroes.

Lydia Cross
Back in October 2003 Tony and Jodie Cross’s worst nightmare came true. Their two beautiful little daughters Lydia and Millie both contracted serious meningitis. First it was seven month old Millie who was rushed to hospital and given a 15% chance of survival. Then as soon as they arrived home, two year old Lydia wasn’t well. Unfortunately for the first few days they were told variously by health professionals that it was a virus or an ear infection until eventually she collapsed and was blue–lighted to hospital where on arrival she stopped breathing and was found to be suffering from among other things full multi-organ failure with septicaemia which it transpired was also due to meningitis. That night the plastic surgeon warned them that Lydia could lose her arms, cheeks, tip of her nose, lips and legs. Truly a parent’s worst nightmare. 

From those terrible weeks, Millie has thankfully fully recovered. As for Lydia, after two weeks in intensive care she had to go to the renal ward for dialysis. Luckily, her kidneys, arms and face all recovered but unfortunately she had to have below-knee, bilateral amputations on both legs. However, her parents were above all thankful that she was alive. As her mother Jodie says, “I thought I had the best cuddle in the world with Millie. Little did we know that we'd be in the same situation with our other daughter days later. When I had that cuddle with our little Liddie I felt the luckiest Mummy in the world. I'd secretly, at the beginning, dreaded that I wouldn't get the chance to hold her in my arms again, but thankfully I did.” Yet despite her disability, Lydia has managed to live as normal a life as possible, attending the local school and learning to walk, jump and ride a bike with her prosthetic limbs. She’s also learned to surf, getting up on the board and standing on her knees and thanks to the brilliant tuition of Maggie Buckland at the Leisure Centre in Barnstaple she’s even learned to swim without swimming legs.

But simply fighting for her own survival was not enough for the indefatigable Lydia. She campaigned to raise awareness of meningitis and by the age of six had already won the Pride of Britain Award for both her courage and her conviction. Then at the age of eight she did a sponsored one mile swim and in the process raised £13,500 for the Help for Heroes charity and this year completed a mile run in Braunton for the same charity with among many others two injured servicemen Ben Mcbean and Mark Ormrod. Oh and if that’s not enough she’s also helped support the British Legion and their poppy appeal. All of which led to her being awarded a Rotary Young Citizen of the Year Award by TV presenter Connie Huq this year as well as receiving perhaps the greatest accolade as far as kids (as well as many adults) are concerned: a Gold Blue Peter Badge. Not that it stops there. When I visited the family, she had been asked to be a patron of Help for Heroes and in the following weeks had a visit to see the Queen and a presentation to make of a Hero Bear to Prince William at the official opening of the swimming pool at the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court. She then plans to walk up Pen Y Fan in Wales in August for Help for Heroes and the British Legion. But beyond all of this what shines out from Lydia is her love of life, her cheeky sense of humour, her kindness to others and a maturity beyond her years. It really is both a joy and an enormous inspiration to see. All the more so for the injured servicemen she has worked so hard to support. As Jodie says, “The lads say Lydia is an inspiration and when they find it hard they see her jumping around and smiling and wondering how they can give up.”

Tony Cross
Lydia’s parents Tony and Jodie are equally inspirational in the way they have handled their family difficulties and turned them into gifts. Tony was in the army for some fifteen years and during that time served in Iraq, returning to work there later as a close protection officer. He is now, among other things, the Devon co-ordinator for Help for Heroes which involves him going around the county explaining what it is all about. Above all, he is keen to emphasise that it is absolutely non-political and is about helping injured servicemen and not whether the fights to which they are sent are right or wrong. Their aim is to establish recovery centres around the UK not only to provide specialist care for the horrific injuries which are suffered but also to help those people to re-integrate themselves back into civilian life as well as relieving the burden on the NHS. When your country is at war and there are people not only fighting but also dying for the freedoms you often take for granted, it is hard to think of a more noble cause to be supporting. 

But beyond even the charity work and the determination of this formidable family, there is above all else an incredible spirit and love which radiates from them all. If ever there was going to be anything that left you with a lump in your throat, it is the sight of two such incredibly loving, modest and courageous parents and their happy, fun-loving and equally courageous daughters. Definitely heroes helping heroes.

For more information on Lydia Cross and to donate to Help for Heroes, click on the links on the article. 

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