Doncaster baby given 60 seconds to live - now celebrating 60th birthday with a 60 mile charity walk

Carmel aged fourCarmel aged four
Carmel aged four
When Carmel Proctor was born, her parents were told she might not survive 60 seconds.

Now she is to embark on a challenge to walk 60 miles before she celebrates her 60th birthday next month, raising more than £1,000 for The Children’s Hospital Charity so far.

Carmel was born at home in Doncaster on August 8, 1960, when it was discovered she had myelomeningocele, the most severe type of spina bifida.

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This occurs when a baby’s spineand spinal cord don’t develop properly in the womb, causing a gap in the spine.

L-R Husband Steve, Carmel, Grandson Wilf, Daughter Ella and son ChrisL-R Husband Steve, Carmel, Grandson Wilf, Daughter Ella and son Chris
L-R Husband Steve, Carmel, Grandson Wilf, Daughter Ella and son Chris

The condition leaves tissue exposed on the baby’s back. Without the protective covering of skin, the spinal cord becomes further damaged, fluid leaks from the area and there is a very high risk of infection.

Today, medical advances mean the outlook for children with spinal bifida is significantly better than it was 59 years ago, as Carmel recalls: “I was very poorly indeed, my parents would tell me later that I wasn’t expected to last 60 seconds. My mum’s GP was called by her midwife to come see me after I was born at home.

"She had heard of a doctor at Sheffield Children’s Hospital who was doing some pioneering treatment for patients with spinal bifida. Two days later, I was in the operating theatre.

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“If it had not been for Sheffield Children’s, I would have been what they referred to back then as ‘nourished’, which was a kind of ‘hope and see’ treatment.”

Carmel Proctor is walking 60 miles before her 60th birthdayCarmel Proctor is walking 60 miles before her 60th birthday
Carmel Proctor is walking 60 miles before her 60th birthday

Mr Lee Breakwell, Consultant Spinal Surgeon at Sheffield Children’s Hospital explains: “Sadly in that time, most children with severe spina bifida were treated with tender-loving-care but wouldn’t survive long after birth. Surgery wasn’t considered an option.”

However, Carmel was treated by Mr Robert Zachary, who was the first full-time surgeon employed by Sheffield Children’s Hospital and developed an international reputation for his expertise on spina bifida.

Alongside paediatrician Dr John Lorber and orthopaedic surgeon Mr John Sharrard, Mr Zachary showed that if babies with spina bifida were operated on within hours of birth, the survival rate could be improved from less than 10 per cent to almost 90 per cent.

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Lee continued: “Even 60 years ago we were a pioneering centre of excellent and innovative care. It’s great to be a part of a still thriving specialist centre, continuing to look after spina bifida patients. We are able to treat babies early and continue to support them throughout their childhood with a multidisciplinary team.”

As Carmel, a medical secretary, now approaches her landmark 60th birthday she has pledged to raise as much as possible for Sheffield Children’s Hospital.

For Carmel, walking 60 miles is quite a challenge. Her spina bifida has caused coordination problems in her left side, while she also suffers from arthritis in her right hip. So far, she has raised £1,125, aided by a substantial donation from CTS Shopfitting Ltd.

Lucy Rathbone, Regional Fundraiser at The Children’s Hospital Charity added: “Carmel’s inspiring story reminds us just how much Sheffield Children’s Hospital has advanced over the years, helping generations of children lead fulfilling lives."

To support Carmel’s challenge visit: