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Mum Charlotte’s hero team: Giving Gigi a flying chance

Twice her daughter has needed life-saving treatment
Gigi Lockwood sitting on mum, Charlotte's lap, with dad, Sam behind them Photos: Maree Wilkinson

As tiny newborn Gigi Lockwood was wheeled in for open-heart surgery at just seven days old, mum Charlotte remembers her overwhelming feeling was excitement.

It might seem like an unexpected emotion in the face of a seven-hour surgery. But for the Bay of Plenty mum it was a huge relief her baby girl was alive and well enough to undergo the operation after a potentially fatal heart defect was discovered during pregnancy.

“It was scary, but I was just so excited,” recalls Charlotte, 39. “We celebrated because I knew it was such a good opportunity to have this life-saving surgery. And that we were in such good hands with Starship Children’s Hospital and one of the top paediatric surgeons in the world.”

Born with pulmonary atresia, a right ventricle heart defect found during a routine 20-week ultrasound, Charlotte was repeatedly told Gigi only had a 50 percent chance of surviving the pregnancy and birth.

“That was the worst-case scenario, but I was always such a firm believer she was going to be okay,” shares home stylist Charlotte. “When I felt her kicking inside me, she felt so lively and active, and I had such a connection with her that I knew we were going to prove them all wrong.”

And Gigi has proved to be a little legend, defying the odds from the minute she was born on September 4, 2019, breathing independently.

In Gigi’s corner: Parents Charlotte and Sam, siblings Otto and Frankie, and pooch Emma.

Baby Gigi’s tough first years

“It was a great birth. They were baffled when she came out able to breathe on her own,” tells Charlotte. “It was such an amazing milestone. Pregnancy was really stressful and awful, but when she was born, I felt like I’d never be sad again.”

Since then, Gigi has successfully undergone three major heart surgeries. A BT shunt at one-week-old, a bidirectional Glenn at five-months-old and a Fontan at three-years-old. All procedures were to help her heart pump oxygenated blood to her lungs. The third operation should last her through adulthood.

After returning to their Tauranga home post-operation in March 2023, Charlotte believed the many months spent in hospital during Gigi’s first years had finally come to an end.

But then a freak accident saw them rushed back on the Starship National Air Ambulance. Gigi suffered a brain bleed and a fractured skull just two months after her final surgery.

“My husband Sam was away duck shooting and was just about to arrive home,” recalls Charlotte, who is also mum to Otto, nine, and Frankie, seven. “I was raking leaves in the garden and Gigi had climbed up on a garden wall to where her siblings had put some teddies.”

Spotting her more than a metre high up, Charlotte quickly called out, “Stop, I’m coming”, but just steps away from reaching her daughter, Gigi fell, hitting her head as she landed on the concrete below.

Sam, 39, got home just in time to take Gigi straight to the local accident and emergency hospital. A CT scan revealed bleeding on the brain. As she was on blood-thinning medication, there was a higher risk of it being life-threatening. The Air Ambulance was Gigi’s best chance of making it to Starship as quickly as possible.

The Air Ambulance

“When they told us we needed the Air Ambulance, I was reassured. I know how good they are, but I also knew that meant it was pretty bad,” says Charlotte. “We’d done everything we could to protect this child and then one incident happened that could change everything.

“We didn’t know if she was going to survive or need brain surgery.”

But Charlotte felt at ease with the knowledge she had on the Air Ambulance. She knew that it was fully equipped with anything Gigi might need en route to hospital. She was also aware of how highly qualified and trustworthy the specialist paediatric intensive care unit team on board were.

“Gigi was right behind me. They were checking her stats and vitals all the time,” tells Charlotte. She spoke to the Weekly for the Starship Air Ambulance fundraising appeal this May.

More than a week in Starship followed, with constant monitoring as Gigi defied the odds again with her impressive recovery.

The family is overjoyed to have their kind and caring kid back. Even though her sleep and emotions are still impacted in the short-term by the brain injury.

“She’s such a bright spark,” smiles Charlotte. “She’s strong, determined and nothing will stop her.

“Gigi is basically alive because of Starship and the Air Ambulance. Sam and I are just so thankful and forever grateful.”

Two images side-by-side. The first of Gigi Lockwood asleep in a hospital bed with a splint on her arm, and the second of Gigi smiling while she plays with her toys in the hospital bed.
It was touch and go after Gigi was airlifted to hospital… But the tot came out grinning.

They need your help

The Starship National Air Ambulance is on call, flying 24/7, 365 days a year. They work around the clock to make sure critically ill or injured children anywhere in Aotearoa can make it to the only paediatric intensive care unit in the country for the life-saving care and treatment they need.

More donors are needed to help keep the Air Ambulance flying. To find out more or to donate, visit home.keepstarshipflying.org.nz.

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