Last week saw a big milestone for Jessica as she started preschool for the first time. Whilst she took it all in her stride and seems to be thoroughly enjoying it so far, it was a big step for me as a parent to go from having her home all the time to having to let her take her first independent steps into the world and trust other people to keep a watchful eye on her and her heart condition.
Preparing for her to start preschool was quite an involved process involving a lot of form-filling and conversations between the cardiac nurses, myself and the preschool staff to ensure that everyone was well-informed about Jessica’s heart condition and how best to support her. Here are some of the key steps and things we learned as we prepared for the start of preschool.
A couple of the preschools we visited were very quick to tell me that they would definitely be fine with coping with Jessica’s heart condition without actually taking the time to find out anything about it. Whilst I am sure they meant to be reassuring, their blasé approach made me nervous. The preschool we chose took the time on our initial visit to ask for more details about Jessica’s heart condition and the things they needed to be aware of. Much more reassuring.
Other factors in our decision were:
- Location – being only a few minutes’ walk away means that Jessica should be able to walk there without getting too tired.
- Flexibility with sessions – Jessica attends preschool two mornings a week. I have friends with children in preschool where their children have to go for the full 15 hours which was not what I wanted for Jessica, at least not at first.
- Outdoor space – Jessica can get cold very quickly (which makes her go quite blue) and having an outdoor space attached to the preschool gives her the option of being able to come back indoors easily and makes this much less of a worry.
2. Filling in health forms and care plans
We filled in a lot of forms to ensure that we gave the preschool as much information as we could, including the following:
- Name (and description) of Jessica’s heart condition and other medical conditions
- Her medical history and brief details of her surgeries to date and next anticipated procedure
- Details of her medications and side effects (e.g. she is on aspirin which means she bruises easily)
- Symptoms associated with her heart condition – such as blueness, breathlessness and tiring more easily
- Contact details for cardiologist, cardiac liaison nurses, paediatrician, community nurse and GP
Jessica also has a medical bracelet with brief details of her heart condition and a contact number to access a more detailed history if needed. There are various companies that can provide these – we got ours from the ID Band Company.
3. The reminder that we as parents are the experts where our particular child is concerned
There were a few phone conversations between the preschool, myself and the cardiac liaison nurses in the run-up to Jessica’s first day. The preschool initially wanted the cardiac liaison nurse to visit them to talk more about what to expect with regards to Jessica’s day-to-day needs but actually, there was very little information that they were able to give that I had not already provided. The preschool also know that they can call me at any time if they have any queries or concerns about Jessica although of course in an emergency situation they would call an ambulance first and me second!
4. Increased exposure to childhood illnesses
I know that I cannot protect Jessica from being exposed to childhood illnesses, nor do I really try but the increased exposure to bugs is something that does worry me a little as a chest infection or a bout of gastroenteritis have previously landed Jessica in hospital. Being on aspirin also puts her at risk of complications from things like chicken pox. The preschool have agreed to keep me updated if they know about any particular bugs going around just so I can keep a little bit of a closer eye on Jessica with regards to these.
I was quite anxious in the run-up to Jessica’s first day but thankfully she seemed to enjoy it and her key worker seems lovely and has been very good at keeping me updated on how Jessica is getting on which is very reassuring.
I found the following information leaflets very helpful when preparing Jessica for preschool – would definitely recommend a read if you have a heart child about to start nursery or preschool:
- Children’s Heart Federation – Early Years and Nursery Factsheet
- Little Hearts Matter – Early Years and Infant School Education Booklet