Mum-to-be Mel Slade is the first to admit she’ll struggle to hold back tears today.
Seeing tiny babies swaddled in blankets and critically-ill children linked to life-saving equipment is a reminder of how each minute can be a matter of life or death.
That’s why Mel, who is expecting her first child with England striker husband Theo Walcott, is proud to be the face of a life-saving children’s charity.
As reported in the Daily Echo, Mel has been named as the patron of the Children’s Air Ambulance and will today welcome the country’s first emergency helicopter for critically-ill babies when it lands at Southampton General Hospital before meeting sick children, their parents and medical staff.
And in an exclusive interview, 24-year-old Mel who normally keeps a low public profile, says she cannot wait to shout about the vital service that aims to save lives by slashing the time it takes to get youngsters to specialist hospital units.
“Theo and I do tend to keep out of the spotlight, but how could you not want to get involved in this cause?
“It really is such an honour to be involved with a charity like this.
“Having a baby is scary enough as it is, let alone if there are any complications when your child is born. It’s just so hard to imagine how awful it must be to have a baby or child who is unwell.
“That’s why the Children’s Air Ambulance is vital. To be a parent and know a service exists which can transport your child to receive life saving treatment in the quickest time possible, must be extremely reassuring.
“In critical situations each minute is so precious and being able to get specialist help as soon as possible is something money can’t buy.”
The Children’s Air Ambulance, which was launched in October 2012 and transferred its first baby last May, will today touch down at Southampton General Hospital, to show medical staff its latest paediatric and intensive care equipment on board.
The helicopter, which travels up to 200mph means that in emergencies severely ill children from district hospitals no longer face road journeys which could take hours.
For Mel, who is the daughter of former Southampton mayor John Slade and met Theo when she was a 16-year-old student working in WestQuay, said anything she can give back to the hospital that cared for her sister Sarah when she battled kidney cancer aged just 17, fills her with pride.
“Southampton is a place really close to my heart and I’ve got a lot of friends and family there. As a city we should feel proud to have such an incredible paediatric intensive care unit.
“I really can’t wait to meet the babies and children, it will be so lovely but it will be very emotional.
“When I was training to be a physio I was on placement in a neonatal unit and it makes you realise just how fragile children can be.”
Mel, who said she is looking forward to returning to Hampshire, added: “Theo would love to be able to come along but unfortunately he won’t be able to. He does a lot of work with children’s charities and is extremely supportive and proud of the work I’m doing with the Children’s Air Ambulance.”