But now George Smith, two, has had a remarkable recovery thanks to doctors at Leeds Children’s Hospital who will today (Thursday) carry out a landmark operation to let him to breathe on his own for the first time.
The youngster, from Beverley, East Yorkshire, spent the first eight months of his life in hospital as medics fought to keep him alive using high-tech ventilation equipment.
He was diagnosed with bronchial tracheal malacia - a condition where the walls of his airway were too soft and kept collapsing, causing him to repeatedly stop breathing and need resuscitating.
Doctors in Leeds initially told his horrified parents he was unlikely to survive but, after a second opinion from Great Ormond Street Hospital, a portable ventilator was found which transformed his life and has allowed him to gradually outgrow the condition.
George, who has three older brothers, has now been off a ventilator for 18 months and today surgeons will try and remove his tracheostomy - the tube into his windpipe - so he can finally breathe through his mouth and nose.
George’s father Matthew Smith, 44, said: “We’ve had some scary times with him. But thanks to Leeds, he’s not only still here, he’s full of beans. We’ve a lot to thank them for.”
It was the long-term ventilation team at the children’s hospital at Leeds General Infirmary who found the special portable ventilator in Australia which allowed George to leave hospital for the first time in his life, in April 2015.
Mr Smith said: “They tried this ventilator on George and the effect was amazing. He was immediately happier and more importantly, there were no more episodes [where he stopped breathing].
“We were told he would be on that ventilator when he went to school but thanks to the care from the hospital, he’s now off the ventilator and we’re now getting the tracheostomy taken out that he’s had in there from three months old.”
Today’s operation will be the 18th time little George, who also has Pierre Rubin Syndrome, has been under general anaesthetic and mum Lyndsay said it’s incredible to think how far he’s come in his short life.
“I can’t look at old photographs of him - it’s hard to look at how he was. But he doesn’t realise what he’s been through. I’m so proud of him. He’s an inspiration.”
Mr Smith added: “He’s a really happy boy, really cheerful. He charges around the house and never stops smiling. It doesn’t phase him at all, he just gets on with it.”
He and eldest son Jack, 17, are now planning to do a sponsored walk to raise money for Leeds Children’s Hospital, to thank the doctors who saved George’s life.
On August 12, the pair will set off from Hull Royal Infirmary and walk the 62 miles to the Leeds hospital in 24 hours.
To sponsor them, visit https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Matthew-Jack-Smith.