The nightmare of a CHD parent… cold and flu season

By Vicki Cockerill

There is one time of year that every heart parent dreads, it occurs from the beginning of October and lasts until around April.

It is the one that despite our well prepared efforts, our strict rules and a cupboard of vitamins and medicines we tend to succumb to it regardless.

It keeps us up at night, it can be an innocent sniffle, or it can be a full blown hospital admission.

You become hyper aware of who does and doesn’t have a cold in your friendship circle, you begin dressing everyone in layers and cross the street when you hear the old lady in front of you sneeze.

It is of course, the nightmare of any CHD parent… cold and flu season.


It seems that this year the weather hasn’t quite made its mind up what it wants to do so we are yo-yoing from warm days to colder nights with some pretty impressive downpours in-between. One minute you’re in t-shirts in the garden, the next you are in scarves and winter coats with the heating on.

From around the end of September to March I go into a slightly crazed over protective heart mum and try to protect Elijah, who has Tetralogy Of Fallot, as much as I can from getting ill.

Vitamins, vests on, and a stock pile of Calpol that could see us through the apocalypse as well as me getting sneaky with hiding fruit and veg in everything.

He has always fought of colds fairly well, and being in a nursery setting has built up quite a good immune system but whenever he does get one it isn’t long before it goes straight to his chest.

His breathing can become heavy, his heart rate can increase especially with a temp.

It is then a bit of a worry if he can fight it off himself or he needs medical help.

In four years we have only been hospitalised twice, pre op with bronchiolitis.


With cold and flu season also comes the flu vaccine which I know is a fairly controversial hot topic.

I have always had the flu vaccine myself as I am at risk, but since Elijah we have made sure all immediate family members are vaccinated too, that way it minimises the risk that Elijah could get it.

Flu and CHD don’t exactly get on, and there can be a lot of pretty ugly complications such as hospitalisation, pneumonia, respiratory issues to name a few.

I know not everyone can have the flu vaccine which is why herd immunization is also important at this time of year.
There are so many arguments surrounding the flu vaccine I used to get involved as they made me angry but honestly I shut myself of to them.

As a heart mum I wish to some degree I had the luxury of deciding that no, me and my family didn’t need to have them.

If there is something out there available for Elijah to help protect him them I am going to grab it with both hands.
I have to put my trust into them and the effectiveness of the vaccine, just as I had to put my trust in them when Elijah had open heart surgery.

If there is just a small chance it will prevent him from getting the flu, or minimise the severity then it is worth it.
As a heart parent we cannot just risk them getting it to build up their immunity, I learnt this the hard way when Elijah recently developed a severe case of chicken pox.

Elijah has had the vaccine for the last couple of years, and this year we pushed for his brother to also be vaccinated too despite it not being routinely advertised for his age.


I wish I could tell you a magical solution I have found that makes cold and flu season more tolerable but with two children under 5 who both attend a child care setting I don’t!

Elijah has been taught from a very early age the importance of dressing correctly for the weather, and make sure his chest is warm.

He eats a lot of fruit and veg and takes his vitamin every day.

We go out and get fresh air and go for a nice walk often so he isn’t stuck indoors where I find sometimes with the heating being on constantly can sometimes make you feel worse.

Elijah is a bit older now so can tell me what is wrong, he knows when to rest and is beginning to learn to limit himself when he is suffering from a cold.

If Elijah is really sick then we stay at home, and he doesn’t attend nursery as I would rather he rests and recovers than pushing himself or passing it on to others.

It for me is all about making him as comfortable as I can so he can rest and get back to his normal mischievous self!

Heart Mum

This is now my fourth cold and flu season as a heart mum, but if we are honest it really is something we fear all the time.

Illness, how Elijah’s heart will cope, if he can fight the illness off himself and if it will lead to something more.
It can be hard not to beat yourself up, and blame yourself that you should have done more to prevent them getting ill when they do.

But, sometimes it can feel like it is never ending, and you might consider putting them in one of those plastic bubbles!

This time of year though it just seems that much more excessive, just a bit more risk which can put a constant fear in us.

Even when it seems relentless, you’ve lost the syringe for the umpteenth time, the smell of Vicks is everywhere, you have been wiping snot for months and can hear a breathing change from two rooms away from one heart parent to another, you are doing a great job.

Now, roll on Spring.

Vicki Cockerill is a Freelance Content Writer and NICU/CHD mum to two boys, she authors The Honest Confessions Of A NICU Mum Blog, co-founded the @KnackeredandNorwich Social Club and campaigns for NICU and MMH issues.  You can contact her via her blog or social media:

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