Keeping Watch at the heart of Navy

Published on CMDR Fenn Kemp (author), Unknown (photographer)

Topic(s): Keeping Watch

WO Dennis Carroll with his wife Helen, son Thomas and daughter Lillian. (photo: Unknown)
WO Dennis Carroll with his wife Helen, son Thomas and daughter Lillian.

Keeping Watch provides a helping hand to serving members of the Royal Australian Navy and their families who are suffering hardship, normally through non-refundable grants. Whether it’s essential living expenses, medical treatment or emergency childcare costs – every family's circumstances are different. For more information please visit the Keeping Watch website:

WO Dennis Carroll and his family have just gone through a medical experience that every parent dreads. Here’s his story:

“It's Christmas night. Our nurse pushes the paw of a teddy bear that was gifted to us earlier that day, and the song ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ echoes throughout the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and surrounding corridors. With my wife at the opposite side of the hospital as an inpatient, I look around at a dozen other newborn babies, and then I look down at our son Thomas. I am suddenly filled with emotion - the reality of the previous 72 hours finally hits me.

On the 23rd December 2017, Thomas Francis Leonard Carroll was born at a very respectable 0559 at Calvary Hospital in Canberra. Shortly after birth he had complications and he was taken to the ICU. Later that day Thomas’s health did not improve and the decision was made to move him to Canberra Hospital. Upon review of an earlier x-ray, the medical team established that Thomas’s heart was enlarged and recommended that he be airlifted to Westmead Children’s Hospital immediately. On the rooftop of Westmead Hospital 13 medical staff that had been waiting for us to arrive greeted Thomas and me. It is at this point I realise that Thomas’s condition is very serious and I became very worried.

Somewhere around 0400 I watch as the cardiologist reviews Thomas and briefs me on the situation. Thomas has what’s known as Aortic Stenosis (his aortic valve is all but fused shut) and built up pressure has caused a large amount of damage to the heart and severe scarring to the heart muscle. The cardiologist continues saying that he has severe concerns for Thomas’s wellbeing. 

The first procedure isn’t so successful. The cardiologist concedes we are left with no choice Thomas must undergo open heart to replace the valve. To our relief, this time the surgery was a success and our brave little boy recovered extremely well, surpassing the expectations of the medical team. Rather than being in hospital for months he was discharged in a matter of weeks.

Thomas is an absolute delight. His cardiologist is very pleased with his progress and whilst longer term he will require further operations to upgrade his heart valves he is out of danger and his future is very bright.

Like many others who find themselves in an emergency situation such as this we thought it would never happen to us. At the time you are faced with many challenges emotionally, personally and financially.

I decided to reach out to my boss at the time, CAPT Paul Scott. He took the time over the leave period to visit us at Westmead Hospital and reminded us of the Navy support network ‘Keeping Watch’. I never thought that I would ever need this assistance and upon review of our current situation I realised that I actually did. Through the support of the Keeping Watch Committee we received financial assistance that eased the burden of our unexpected stay over Christmas and New Year in Sydney.

We would like to also thank not only the doctors and nurses from Westmead but also the ex-Army pilot who flew the Toll helicopter and cheered up dad on the tarmac in Canberra. But we are especially grateful to the Sailors, Officers and members of the Australian public who have donated and supported the Keeping Watch Program over the years.

I never really understood or appreciated the term ‘Navy Family’, but now that term rings true for us and we are forever grateful.”