For dying five-year-old Buzz Lightyear fan Aiden Lewis, they were moments that took him to infinity and beyond his wildest dreams.
There on a screen in front of him was British astronaut Tim Peake – chatting to him all about life in orbit.
Then the youngster, who could name all the planets, was given a virtual reality headset to go on spacewalks.
And just two days before he died, Aiden – who wanted to be an astronaut – was stunned to discover he’d had a star officially named after him.
His moving send-off was all arranged by charity Make-A-Wish after his mum and dad contacted them to ask for a “space hug” for their tragic son from Tim.
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And the 48-year-old hero was only too glad to help. “It was very special for me to be able to bring a bit of happiness to Aiden,” he said.
Last July Aiden was diagnosed with a terminal veins condition that weakened his heart – with mum Caitlin given the shocking news from doctors just minutes after he had met his new baby brother Logan in hospital.
Her eldest son was given months to live. And now Caitlin and husband Joshua are battling to make it law for babies showing a “failure to thrive” to have vital organs checked at six months.
“It would not have saved Aiden,” says Caitlin, 26. “But I’d hate other parents to be in a position where something could have made a difference.”
For now, she and Joshua are consoled by the memories of their son’s final weeks – and the kindness of the hero who sent her the video message for her son.
Caitlin says: “Before I started the video, I said to Aiden, ‘This is a real astronaut who wants to talk to you’. He loved spacemen after seeing Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story and was ecstatic. He couldn’t believe an astronaut wanted to speak to him.”
Tim – who made the first spacewalk by an “official” British astronaut in 2016 – told Aiden: “It is quite incredible to think you would have been a small baby while I was up there floating around in orbit around Earth. It’s the most incredible experience you could ever imagine.”
Tim showed Aiden a bacon sandwich in a tin, like the first meal he had on the International Space Station, the drink pouch he took on space walks and the no-rinse shampoo used by astronauts.
He signed off with: “So there you go… there’s a few secrets of what we do in space. Sending you big space hugs Aiden, from Tim Peake.”
Caitlin says: “Tim became one of Aiden’s heroes and his message helped make those final days that little bit more special. It’s nice to know there are people out there who will do what they can to put a smile on a child’s face.”
Aiden saw the message just three days before he died in December – a day later the Make-A-Wish certificate arrived, telling him a star had been named after him. It marked “the family’s final perfect day together”, says Caitlin.
She says: “It wasn’t in our night sky at the time – it appears in April.
“So we downloaded an app that shows all the constellations and showed Aiden that instead. He was chuffed, particularly as it was in the Hercules constellation and he loved the Disney film.”
Aiden’s problems began just before birth in 2016, when his heart rate dropped during contractions.
“We almost lost him,” says Caitlin. “When they placed him on my chest, he was grey and not breathing properly.
After a couple of weeks, he was drinking a lot more milk but not putting on weight.”
At six months, doctors made an assessment of “failure to thrive” – a medical term to describe slow physical development. At two Aiden was hospitalised with pneumonia and Caitlin feared something else was wrong.
But it was not until June 2020 that the Queen Alexandra hospital, Portsmouth got to the bottom of his problems, finding his liver enlarged, pneumonia in both lungs and heart failure.
Doctors diagnosed pulmonary vein stenosis – which destroys veins between the heart and lungs.
It strikes less than two in 100,000 children under two, with a survival rate of less than 50% within five years of diagnosis, says the Canadian Respiratory Journal.
Caitlin was given the terrifying news after giving birth to Logan on June 30.
Excited Aiden had just met his new brother in the hospital.
Now Caitlin and Joshua, of Gosport, Hants, are being backed by their MP Caroline Dinenage and the Children’s Heart Federation in their campaign.
Caitlin says: “We brought one child into the world then were told we were likely to lose our other son. The NHS says while ‘a failure to thrive’ is not a diagnosis, it recognises a baby’s faltering growth is cause for concern.
“But all ‘failure to thrive’ babies should have major organs checked at six months as a legal requirement.
“Aiden struggled with eating and slow development as he grew, but it wasn’t until he deteriorated at four that major tests were done.”
CHF chief Anne Kearney-Clarke told us: “Sadly, this is not the first time we have come across a situation where vital signs have been missed. This is why we are campaigning for pulse oximetry testing for all newborn infants. No child should be labelled as failing to thrive without their heart being monitored for a potential problem.”
In his final days in a hospice, Aiden did space walks on his Oculus virtual reality headset and opened early Christmas presents. “The last time I bathed him we pretended he was using astronaut no-rinse shampoo,” says carer Caitlin.
On December 20, Caitlin sensed he was slipping away. “I lay down next to him and Josh read some stories. I had my hand on his chest, feeling his last heartbeats while we were singing You Are My Sunshine, because he loved that song.”
Now, over Easter, the family plan to go to Portsdown Hill, a scenic lookout spot just outside Portsmouth.
Caitlin says: “When we find the star, I’ll remember all the good times with my little boy who was full of fun. Logan is too young to understand, but he looks at Aiden’s photo, smiles and reaches out for it. They had such a strong bond.”
- To find out more about Make-A-Wish UK or find out how to donate to the charity, visit make-a-wish.org.uk
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