How not being able to cuddle my sick baby led to a life-saving invention

By Donna Ferguson

Caitlin Shorricks will never forget the agony of seeing her three-month-old baby, Theía, being treated for cancer last year. She was scared to pick up her daughter for fear of accidentally pulling out the tube running into her main jugular vein: “I was totally terrified. If I wanted to hold her, I had to call a nurse to help.”

Determined to find a safe way to cuddle her little girl, she teamed up with her aunt Eva Newberry, who used to be a dressmaker, to create a garment for the baby that would keep the line safely tucked away in a pocket. They called it a “Choob Toob’”.

Now Shorricks is hoping to manufacture enough of the garments to offer a free Choob Toob to any child who needs one. She has set up Tiny Teas Trust, and spent over £6,000 designing and making the garments. At first, customers came via word of mouth, but now Shorricks is inundated with requests from parents.

Central lines, also known as central venous catheters, are often used to painlessly give fluids, drugs and blood transfusions to patients whose veins are too small and fragile for other catheters. If a central line becomes detached, it can be life-threatening.

At the beginning of her treatment, 14-week-old Theía had two tubes dangling out of her chest, long enough to get caught in her toes or, worse, her nappy. “I was told never to let the ends go near her nappy – or she could get sepsis,” said Shorricks. Yet when chemotherapy ended, Shorricks had to care for Theía at home for several months with the line still in place.

“If she pulled it, I would have had to rush back to hospital. How was she supposed to have tummy time, learn to roll or sit up? What if it did end up in her nappy?”

Theía is 20 months old now, and in remission. The Choob Toobs she wore day and night allowed Shorricks to keep her tubes clean and secure.

When Theía’s line was removed after five months, her consultant at Great Ormond Street asked how many line infections and line pulls the baby had had at home. Shorricks said she’d had none. “He sort of laughed at me, like it couldn’t be true.” So she explainedabout “the weird little top” that Theía wore under her clothes. “He said that was fascinating and I should do something with it.”

She has since created Choob Toobs for older children as well. “One little girl said she loves that no one knows she has a central line and she can wear whatever she wants on top. It’s given those children back a sense of self.”

While Theía doesn’t remember her time in hospital, Shorricks remains traumatised by feeling too scared to hug her baby. She never wants another parent to suffer that: “I need to help other families because there is nothing else available and I just can’t imagine being back in that situation. It makes me want to cry, just thinking about what other parents are going through.”

She said 100% of donations to Tiny Teas Trust go to manufacturing Choob Toobs and printing leaflets. Neither she nor her aunt, who currently makes the garments to order, receive any payment.