Hamish McLachlan wife Sophie’s life was turned upside down.
Hamish McLachlan wife Sophie’s life was turned upside down.

TV host’s heartbreak over sick daughter

Hamish McLachlan knew something was wrong when he looked at his phone.

It was 2013 and the Channel 7 presenter and AFL commentator was hosting the network's tennis coverage but even though his wife Sophie knew that, she kept trying to contact him.

"I thought, 'It's odd because she knows I'm on the tennis, why would she be calling?'" McLachlan said on AFL.com.au's Last Time I Cried series.

"I spoke to her that night and she said, 'There's something wrong with Milla. She sort of has these little twitches and I can't get her attention for hours, there is something really wrong'."

Milla is the McLachlans' daughter - the little miracle the couple had accepted they might never see after Sophie was involved in a car accident that left them facing the prospect of being unable to conceive.

A third attempt at IVF finally proved successful and Milla came into the world via an emergency C-section. But what should have been one of the happiest occasions of the McLachlans' life soon turned terrifying.

Sophie had taken videos of an eight-month-old Milla's "twitches" and when they showed the footage to their paediatrician, her face turned white and she told them to get to the emergency room at Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital.

A couple of hours later Doctor Jeremy Freeman told the McLachlans Milla had West syndrome - a rare brain disease that affects one in 2500 kids - and she had a 10 per cent chance of dying in hospital, and an 80 per cent chance of having brain damage for life.

"I said, 'What's your name again?' He said, 'Jeremy Freeman'," McLachlan recalled.

"I picked up Milla. I said, 'This is Milla Freeman. Save her'."

Milla had to be given steroids orally four times a day for 31 days. These were steroids so strong they aren't even given to animals.

Dr Freeman warned the McLachlans Milla would react so badly to it the first time, she wouldn't open her mouth again. They'd need to force it open to get the steroids in her system.

Milla wailed in agony after the first dose and a doctor said she'd scream so much she'd lose her voice in 24 hours. McLachlan was told the seizures putting his daughter's life at risk would stop after six days, or they wouldn't.

Milla is all smiles these days.
Milla is all smiles these days.

"The first day, we do the first batch, she has five sets of seizures," McLachlan said.

"The second day, in the back of my mind I'm going, 'It's got to stop. It's got to stop. Six days, or it will never stop'. Second day, five sets of seizures. Third day, six sets of seizures.

"Then on the fourth day - (McLachlan's brother and AFL CEO) Gillon did the 7am session everyday because he'd do it on the way to work - he grabbed Milla and he said, 'Today's the day, she won't have a seizure today. Today's the day'.

"And I remember ... I gave him Milla and left him on the couch. I went to the kitchen, got the steroid out, putting it into the syringe and by the time I got to Gill, she was having seizures in his arms.

"He was crying. He said, 'How can it happen to someone who doesn't deserve it?'

"You're sitting there going, 'Am I going to lose my daughter or not?'"

After six days the seizures stopped. But a visit to Dr Freeman on day 14 told the McLachlans Milla had to get to three months without seizures to be confident of recovery.

A month in, McLachlan didn't recognise his own daughter because she'd swelled up so much. Neither did the sportscaster's younger brother.

"He says, 'Where's Milla?' I said, 'She's in the front room'. He goes, 'No, there's two kids in there, not one of them is Milla'. I was like, 'That's her'."

The McLachlans get to the three-month milestone and see Dr Freeman again. He does the necessary scans and tells them Milla's brain patterns are back to normal, but the good news came with a caution. He's seen one case of a child making it to three months without seizures, but relapsing and them returning after six.

So the agonising wait goes on.

Hamish and Sophie McLachlan went through hell.
Hamish and Sophie McLachlan went through hell.

"The next three months, every day seems like a month," McLachlan said.

They reach six months and make another visit to Dr Freeman, who does some tests. This time, it's all good news.

"He does a few tests and he says, 'Your daughter is a miracle'," McLachlan said.

"He said, 'I've just done some cognitive tests that three-year old children don't pass'.

"At this point she (Milla) is now 15 months. He said, 'She's through it ... She's the best response I've ever had to this disease'.

"That's when I started crying and really cried.

"You just don't know when life's going to change and you don't when a seemingly perfect world becomes imperfect, nor do you know when it's going to become perfect again.

"So When Jeremy Freeman says she's a miracle, it's like the journey's ended.

"Every time I put her to bed, I think, 'How lucky you're here'. That was the last time I cried."

Dr Jeremy Freeman said Milla’s recovery was a “miracle”. Picture: Ian Currie
Dr Jeremy Freeman said Milla’s recovery was a “miracle”. Picture: Ian Currie

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