A FAMILY paid tribute to the hospital that changed their daughter's life by turning a 40th birthday party into a fundraising opportunity.

Claire Lewis, 32, faced every mother's nightmare when her daughter Abigail was suspected to have craniosynostosis at just five weeks old.

The rare condition – which causes babies to be born with an abnormally shaped skull or develop one during growth – can lead to significant brain damage if left untreated.

It meant that Mrs Lewis and husband Martin were left facing a decision on whether to go ahead with a potentially life-altering operation at Birmingham Children's Hospital.

"We were in doubt that she needed to have this operation done," said Mrs Lewis.

"We had lots of appointments pre-op for scans and bloods – they were keeping a close eye on her while she grew strong enough for the operation. "They were concerned about the pressure building on her brain as it was pushing against the closed plates of bones in her skull and this was also causing her head shape to become abnormal – she had a point at the back and a bossed large forehead. But to us she was still beautiful."

At just five months, Abigail underwent the mammoth seven-hour operation to remove and re-shape her skull.

"They cut it into smaller sections and replaced it very carefully. She had a team of very experienced surgeons. It was the most terrifying day of our lives not to mention the longest," said Mrs Lewis.

"We collected her from recovery after about nine hours and she had had to have blood transfusions which is not uncommon with this type of operation. We could see straight away a change in her appearance even with a head bandage on."

The next two days were spent in the high-dependency unit at Birmingham Childen's Hospital and swelling started to appear around 12 hours after the operation leaving Abigail unable to move her head or open her eyes for several days.

Once the bandage was removed, Mr and Mrs Lewis discovered their baby girl had more than 100 stitches in a zig zag scar from ear to ear.

"Her blond hair has now all grown back and the only time I can see the scar is when her hair is wet but it reminds me every day how brave she was," said Mrs Lewis.

To celebrate Mr Lewis' 40th birthday in June, the family held a party with an auction and raffle.

It raised a staggering £12,500 for ward 10 at Birmingham Children's Hospital.

"The ward 10 manager has emailed me to say that she would like to spend the money on a machine to measure the pressure in the brain. We are so pleased that this will help so many children that need the advanced and life saving care that ward 10 gives," added Mrs Lewis.