Last week saw a big milestone for Jessica as she started preschool for the first time. She took it all in her stride and seems to be thoroughly enjoying it so far. However, it was a big step for me as a parent too. Going from having her home all the time to letting her take her first independent steps into the world and having to trust other people to keep a watchful eye on her and her heart condition was a daunting prospect.
Preparing for her to start preschool was quite an involved process. It involved 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 about preparing for preschool with a heart child.
1. Finding a preschool we felt confident and comfortable with
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. I am sure they meant to be reassuring but 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. This was 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. This 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). Having an outdoor space attached to the preschool gives her the option of being able to come back indoors easily if needed.
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 discuss Jessica’s day-to-day needs. However, there was very little information that the cardiac nurse could 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. Of course in an emergency situation they would call an ambulance first and me second though!
4. Increased exposure to childhood illnesses
I know that I cannot protect Jessica from being exposed to childhood illnesses, nor do I really try. However the increased exposure to bugs at preschool is something that does worry me a little. A chest infection or a bout of gastroenteritis have been known to land 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. 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. If you have a heart child about to start nursery or preschool these are definitely worth a read.