Mum raising £300,000 for treatment which helped her severely brain damaged five-year-old son

Sarah Dafner wants to fund a hyperbaric oxygen chamber in Manchester so others can benefit


A Manchester mother of six is attempting to raise £300,000 for a hyperbaric oxygen chamber after seeing the dramatic difference hyperbaric treatment has made to her five-year-old son, who has severe brain damage.

Tzvi Dafner had been a happy and healthy baby until contracting influenza at three months. “He was just learning to turn over,” recalled his mum, Sarah, 37, a member of Beis Mordechai Synagogue in Prestwich.

At first Tzvi seemed to be getting better but Mrs Dafner and her husband Reuven started to panic on the third day when they could not rouse him.

“He had stopped breathing and gone into cardiac arrest. It took 27 minutes for the paramedics to get him breathing. Your world just stops and you fear the worst.

“He was put into an induced coma and when they took him out of it a week later, the results showed no brain activity and he didn’t respond to stimuli.

“Not a sound came out of his mouth and he couldn’t bend his legs at all, even when unconscious,” Mrs Dafner said. “We were devastated.”

The Dafners were told there was little doctors could do. Their son was blind and “would not be able to respond in any way to things we were saying”.

When Tzvi started making sounds soon afterwards, Mrs Dafner was initially encouraged. But he began to cry all the time — “nothing comforted him” — and he suffered seizures, “screaming in pain because his body was so stiff and the seizures lasted all day. It felt like a nightmare.”

Tzvi’s immune system was so weak that the first three years of his life were spent in and out of hospital “with constant infections”. Matters only improved when the family GP asked Mrs Dafner if she had heard of hyperbaric oxygen — used in the treatment of people with serious brain damage and conditions such as MS and Parkinson’s.

Tzvi’s consultants were unconvinced of the benefits in his case but Mrs Dafner was determined to give it a try.

The problem was that the hyperbaric oxygen chamber in Manchester was unavailable to children. The nearest available unit was in Morecambe, a five hour round trip.

“You have to have back-to-back sessions for the best results,” Mrs Dafner said. “So I drove there every day Monday to Friday.”

Within 20 sessions, Tzvi’s seizures had decreased dramatically and he smiled for the first time since his cardiac arrest. 

“The doctors told me he would never smile again. I can’t explain the feeling we had seeing his face change, his expressions come back and to see him smile. It meant everything.”

Further treatment resulted in his sight improving —“he was cortically blind before and now can track with his eyes”.

He has also started responding vocally and interacting with his family. His immune system has also become much stronger.

Instead of spending three weeks out of four in hospital, there have only been four hospital stays over the past year. “His consultant couldn’t believe the difference in him. I was asked to give a talk about the hyperbaric oxygen chamber to all his consultants at the hospital.

“It has transformed our lives as a family, especially because we are able to all be at home together so much more than before.”

The former nursery teacher has already raised £100,000 towards her £300,000 target to establish a hyperbaric chamber at Aim Habonim, a special needs school in Salford.

“I want other families to benefit the way we have,” she said.

“We are not the only family in Manchester who could benefit.

“I hope that by hearing about our experience, other people realise this is not an alternative treatment — it works.

“It has also been found to improve a range of other conditions, including Alzheimer’s and dementia, and even reducing nausea and hair loss in those having chemotherapy.”

Under her plan, the chamber, like the one in Morecambe, would be staffed by trained volunteers.

“These chambers are too expensive for the NHS to run at the moment and there are 87 run by charitable organisations in the UK,” Mrs Dafner explained.

“The volunteers are amazing and they are what made each day easy. I was bowled over by them.

“They got to know us and they couldn’t believe the improvement Tzvi was making.”

Watching her son suffer painful seizures had been “unbearable”. But he was now down to taking one drug for his epilepsy. 

“It is just so amazing,” she said. “I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to see him smile.”


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