Ray of hope for Harrogate boy brain damaged at birth after hospital failings

A world of opportunity for a bright young boy, taken in the trauma of childbirth amid hospital failings over his care.

Kit van Berckel of Harrogate, aged 11, with his mum Joanna. Picture James Hardisty.

Harrogate's Kit van Berckel, who has dyskinetic cerebral palsy, didn't breath for 13 minutes when he was born. He was christened at two days' old, his family fearing he wouldn't survive.

Yet Kit's story doesn't end with a diagnosis of brain damage. Yes, he uses a wheelchair, and cannot walk, or talk unaided.

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But he is feisty, and determined, and thriving in mainstream school. With the help of a Stephen Hawking' style computer, he can talk and laugh and play Fifa with his friends.

Kit van Berckel of Harrogate, aged 11, with his mum Joanna. Picture James Hardisty.

"Hello - I'm Kit," he says as we are introduced, with a tap of his knee and the aid of eye-scan technology. And then he laughs and skips the computer to say it again.

He is enjoying my astonishment.

"I have cerebral palsy from birth and this means I am unable to sit or walk independently," says the now 11-year-old.

"I am non-verbal which means I can't say the words, but I understand everything.

Kit playing football with his brother Oliver

"You can ask me any question."

Failed at birth

When he was born in May 2008, Kit had no sign of life for 13 minutes. During his birth, hospital staff had failed to recognise he was in distress and did not correctly interpret scans monitoring his heart rate.

As a result Kit was born with no heartbeat, suffering significant brain injury.

With the help of advanced technology, Kit can play Xbox with his brother Oliver

Harrogate District Hospital later admitted failings and, following a protracted legal battle by his parents Charles and Joanna van Berckel, Kit was to awarded nearly £10m towards his life care.

Looking back, his mother says she now feels numb about what happened.

"It's just a memory," says Mrs van Berckel, 46. "I was left while my baby, my firstborn, was on the resuscitating table, not making a sound, not breathing, not doing anything.

"Naively then, I didn't really know what brain damage meant for a child, and how it was going to be."

Kit van Berkel, now aged 11, is thriving in mainstream schooling

The family were transferred to intensive care at Sheffield, and warned that it was unlikely Kit would survive. He had no brain activity, and was suffering seizures.

"I had no idea what any of this even meant," said Mrs van Berckel. "You're disconnected from the trauma.

"You feel fear, of course you do, you feel sadness, but you cannot possibly process what's going on.

"We had Kit christened, at two days of age, because we felt that at least meant he had a pathway to somewhere. It gave us some comfort.

"On day three, Kit's monitor showed some brain activity. We were all absolutely astounded. He went from death's door to surviving. Every day was a miracle, and every day he improved."

A world of support

Kit, now thriving, is a bright student at Richard Taylor School in Harrogate.

He is a huge football fan, his team of choice being Manchester City. He plays for a disability football club, called Adversity United. For his birthday, he got a pizza oven, and his friends came over to play Xbox. Fifa is his favourite.

"At Easter, we went to Florida to visit Disney World," he tells me, once again using advanced eye-tracking technology to flip through the words on the iPad in front of him.

"I loved it and was able to go on lots of rides - I love fast and steep rides the best. I love all things adrenaline."

Outside in the sunshine, we watch Kit as he plays football with one of his three brothers, Oliver, aged eight, blinking to instruct him on which corner of the goal to aim for.

With a walker, Kit can play. With the technology, he can communicate.

The house is purpose built to suit his needs. It is open plan, with wide corridors, a pool, sensor operated taps. Kit has three helpers, to support his care.

His family, with the payout secured through Irwin Mitchell solicitors in Leeds, have been able to offer him the best of everything.

But not every child has this chance, his mother says. And she is determined to open up that window of hope to other families.

"Support is very thin on the ground, when you are going through something like we did," said Mrs van Berckel. "Life felt very hurtful at times.

"We love and enjoy Kit - we love him ridiculous amounts - but we had to be resilient. We had to be really strong as a family, we had to be brave.

"You don't come to terms with it - nobody is going to come to terms with the fact that their child was brain damaged by a hospital - you come to terms with a new way of life.

"That new way of life now is beautiful and magical. His life is completely full and he goes to bed exhausted every night.

"I have absolutely no doubt he will be a great success in life. I have no doubt that his life will be fulfilled and happy."

Creating a beacon of hope

Mrs van Berckel is among a group in Harrogate looking to create a new charity, called The Unity, which can campaign to raise funds and act as a be-friending service for other families.

"Basically, for the first five years of Kit's life, I researched. Can you imagine every other family, alone, doing this is at home?

"Through The Unity I'm hoping we will be able to reach families in Harrogate and the surrounding area.

"Nobody gives you a guidebook, as to how to have a disabled child," she adds.

"I would hate to think that there is another mother, in our local area, who felt the same as I did in those first few years."