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Meet the paramedic student giving back after daughter’s care


Student in paramedic uniform sat down by medical equipment

A University of Bradford student says he wants to make a difference as he studies to become a paramedic after being inspired by the medical care his newborn daughter received.

Carl Birks’ daughter Felicity was born prematurely at just 29 weeks and given a five per cent chance of survival after being diagnosed with Hydrops Fetalis, a rare condition where large amounts of fluid build up in the tissues and organs of a baby, which leads to excessive swelling. 

Felicity, pictured below, was born via an emergency C-section in April 2019 and was transferred to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the Jessop wing in Sheffield. 

Close up picture of a baby in hospital with woollen hat on

She was in hospital for the first 116 days of her life, at the Jessop Wing in Sheffield and Sheffield Children’s Hospital, and it was the 30-minute journey in an ambulance on the day she was born which prompted Carl to leave his job as a car salesman and retrain as a paramedic. 

a person kissing a baby on their head while they are in hospital

Felicity, now four, pictured below, has made a full recovery as Carl carries out his studies at the University of Bradford. He added Felicity is now a Disney princess-obsessed little girl. 

Carl, 34, said: “She is so sassy and bossy, it’s unreal. She is up and about constantly and never shuts up. 

“She is your typical four-year-old girl. She is fine now and has made a full recovery. The doctors never found out what the cause was. It’s all a bit of a mystery. When she grows up, she wants to help babies like she was.”

Picture of young person sat on a bench in countryside holding a flower

Felicity is now left with scars on her abdomen, near her shoulder and on her hands from the treatment that she received as a baby. 

Carl said: “We make sure Felicity knows what they (her scars) are and that she is proud of them. She will quite happily show her scar on her belly.”

Meanwhile, his wife, Charlie, 35, who works as a healthcare assistant at Doncaster Royal Infirmary, is set to study for a nursing degree once he completes his four-year BSc (Hons) Paramedic Science degree at the University of Bradford, which he started in September 2023. They have three other children – Jayden, 16, Anthony, 12, and Oliver, six. 

Carl recalls the doctors telling the couple about Felicity’s health problems before she was born and the ambulance journey for them both as Charlie recovered separately after the birth. 

He said: “It was like a whirlwind. She was born at 29 weeks, three months early. We were never prepared at all. Nobody ever tells you that it’s a possibility that it is going to happen. You just assume it will be normal. 

Two people standing up with baby in front of them in a hospital

“We were told that they needed to deliver this baby now, as she’s not going to survive. Charlie went into have a C-section and all I got of Felicity was a picture. 

“Me and Felicity got into the ambulance to take us to Sheffield. The paramedics, that’s what stuck in my head. That’s all that I remember from the journey. They told me to eat and drink. My head was all over the place.”

Carl revealed he wants to copy some of his experience of the care he received from paramedics on that day to help those he will be looking after once he fully qualifies.

He said: “I want to make people feel a tiny bit better, as that support got me through it. I don’t know what I would have done. I want to be that person for someone else. It’s not just about the immediate patient they have to look after. When I was with Felicity, I was a patient. 

I think it will help me being a paramedic having been there myself and having known what they are feeling. Understanding what the people are going through and giving back

“Before any of this happened I never thought I could do this as a job. As soon as I did it I thought ‘This is me, this is what I want to do’.”

Student sat down with arms folded in front of them next to medical equipment

Carl says he is enjoying his 12-hour days as he commutes from his family home in Doncaster to his university studies in Bradford and back.  

He said: “It’s really good, I’m really enjoying it. One of the reasons I chose Bradford was that it would get me ready and I would get to start out and experience it. I’m doing 12-hour days and it’s all right as it’s all new at the moment. 

“The lecturers on my course are all registered paramedics and have vast amounts of clinical experience between them. Some have even completed their own qualification at Bradford. Being able to learn directly from their experiences and those who have been in my shoes, and have been there and done it, will only be of benefit to me and my cohort.

“My younger two children thought I was moving away because I was going to university. They said, ‘Are we getting a new daddy now?’ They love it (Carl training as a paramedic). Every time they see an ambulance they say I will be in that soon.”

Carl completed four separate placements over a five-week period during his first three months at the University of Bradford. These included a patient transport placement in Wakefield, one at a dementia care home in Harrogate and a spell working with people with learning disabilities in Bradford.

He also spent a week shadowing a two-person paramedic crew at an A&E in Doncaster on their shifts for a week in December.

Carl’s degree at the University of Bradford includes a paid sandwich year during his third year where he will gain on-field experience through Yorkshire Ambulance Service. 

Speaking on his future after his studies, he said: “There are so many different things I can go into. The mental health side is really interesting me at the moment. 

“The sandwich year will be good and that might open up a few avenues. I will experience an array of jobs and I will see what interests me more than others.”

Nina Roberts, Lecturer of BSc (Hons) Paramedic Sciences at the University of Bradford, said: “Carl’s story is an inspiration to us all; that he decided to retrain as a paramedic to help others following his first-hand experiences of their care. 

“It is wonderful to hear that his daughter Felicity has made a full recovery.

“It is great that Carl is progressing well at the University of Bradford and I wish him good luck with his studies as he progresses towards a career as a paramedic.”