Gorleston: The girl whose heart stops if she gets too excited

SEEING her little daughter’s face light up with excitement on Christmas morning is the last thing Tina Cleveland wants.

For two-year-old Holly has a rare condition that causes her heart and breathing to stop if she gets too excited – and even the sight of Christmas presents under the tree could trigger it.

Tina, 43, and Holly’s father Ray, 50, have been told her heart will always start again but the 30-second period the seizures usually last seems like an eternity to them – and they are aware that some children with the condition need resuscitation.

Holly was diagnosed with reflex anoxic seizures just before last Christmas but her mother said she was too young then to get excited about the big day.

This year they have consciously tried to calm the excitement by putting up Christmas trees in their home near Gorleston seafront early so she became used to the twinkling lights before they began to appear everywhere.


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Tina said: “It will be difficult to control the excitement on Christmas Day when our nine-year-old son Ryan gets us up early but we will try to do it in dribs and drabs.

“We will be going round my sister Nicola’s house on Christmas Day and will have a few presents then, and we’ll do the same again on Boxing Day when we see my in-laws.

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“It’s heartbreaking to see Holly’s little face light up and then have to immediately calm her down again.

“She’s mad about Peppa Pig but I have even avoided asking what present she wants because I don’t want her to get too excited when she sees it.”

Holly’s condition is caused by an overactive vagus nerve – the main communication pathway between the brain and the heart and lungs – which causes a sudden lack of blood in the brain.

Tina and Ray, an engineer, first noticed the problem when Holly was nine months but doctors told them it was just down to her holding her breath, a common trait in toddlers.

The condition was only diagnosed after Holly collapsed during a sleepover at Tina’s sister’s house and had to be taken to Gorleston’s James Paget University Hospital.

Tina said: “My sister Nicola was in a terrible state. She thought Holly had died.”

And she recalled the heartbreak of seeing her daughter on her hospital bed linked to so many machines with her sleepsuit cut off ready for doctors to start resuscitation.

Tina said: “After she was diagnosed I was scared to go out of the house for a week.

“Every seizure is different and we don’t know when it will happen.

“She can have one every day for 10 days and then none for two months after that.”

There is no cure for the condition which affects about eight in 1,000 children, but Holly’s parents have been told she may grow out of it.

Tina said they were proud how Holly’s character shone through adversity.

“She is a lovely child with such a lovely disposition,” she said.

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