Archie Battersbee: The inside story of a mother's fight to save her son's life

  • Hollie Dance tells ITV News Anglia's Charlie Frost about the moment she found Archie, and her determination now to fight for his right to live.

At the age of 12, Archie Battersbee should be counting down to the start of the summer holidays. Instead he lies on life support in hospital, with the question of his life and death the subject of a courtroom battle that has drawn sympathy from around the world. But what is it like to be a mother fighting for your son's life? Charlie Frost reports.

Hollie Dance scrolls through her phone, until she finds it.

“I love this photo,” she says, holding up the picture of a cheeky, wide-eyed toddler. “It’s my favourite.”

The photo is black and white, but Archie Battersbee's golden curls are unmistakeable.

Many millions of people now know Archie's face and name.

The fate of the 12-year-old boy who has been on a ventilator at the Royal London Hospital since being found unconscious at home now rests in the hands of judges who will decide if - or when - his life support machine is turned off.

Archie Battersbee as a baby, in his mother's favourite photograph. Credit: Hollie Dance

Medics believe that he is brain-stem dead and that treatment should stop in his best interests. His family, led by Hollie and Archie’s father Paul Battersbee, disagree with that assessment and believe he should be given more time.

After a string of legal hearings and court dates, in which Archie was ruled dead and doctors given permission to stop treatment, the Court of Appeal this week ruled that a new judge should hear the case once more to decide what is in the youngster’s best interests.

For the family, it was another gruelling day - albeit one that ended with some hope restored - after three months of legal disputes.

“I said, ‘Arch, we won! But I still need you to wake up, because we’re running out of time here, so wake up and help mummy out a little bit!’" Hollie recalls. "Then, I gave him a big kiss and said I love you.”

As we talk - Hollie taking a precious hour away from Archie's side - she opens up on his childhood, their special mother-son bond, the moment she found him unconscious, and how she has not set foot in her house since that day.

“I haven’t been home yet,” she reveals. “I can’t bear the thought yet of going home.”

Hollie Dance speaks to ITV News Anglia reporter Charlie Frost. Credit: ITV News Anglia

'Archie, please don't leave me'

The last time Hollie was at their Southend home, she was giving her son CPR.

It was 7 April, they had just been out for dinner, when Hollie walked out of her bedroom to find Archie unconscious on their hallway stairs. 

“I ran downstairs, ran out the front, screamed for help,” she says. “My neighbour came around the corner, and said ‘You alright?’, ‘No, he’s not breathing!’”

“I was doing CPR on him, and I was saying ‘Archie, please don't leave me. Don't leave mummy, stay with me, Archie.’”

She found Archie with a ligature around his chin. She believes, although she says she can’t be 100% sure, he was taking part in an online challenge.

She doesn’t want to name the challenge at this stage - explaining she fears it could draw other children’s attention to it.

The trauma of that day, she says, has still not been processed - pushed to one side as she grapples with the legal issues of keeping her son alive.

Archie's family have been at his bedside constantly since he was taken to hospital. Credit: PA

Since then Hollie has kept a constant vigil at Archie’s bedside.

“I’d give anything to hear his voice at the minute. I keep going back over old videos, just listening to his voice,” she says. “It makes me quite emotional. I miss him. I love being with him. It just looks like he's asleep. 

“He looks so angelic and peaceful and he doesn't look any different to what he does when he's asleep. He’s got tubes, things going in, IVs going in his wrists… but he just looks like Arch, but he’s asleep.”

She continues to speak to him, as do his brother and sister, as a way of reassuring him that they are there by his side.

"All the time, I speak to him, I play him his messages. I sit there a lot of the time holding his hand, just staring at him, stroking his face, playing with his hair," says Hollie.

Archie Battersbee and his brother Tom, described as his idol. Credit: Hollie Dance

Hollie and Archie had always had a special relationship, she says - from early childhood he was “glued to my hip”.

She can’t even do the weekly shop without him wanting to join her, she says, laughing. “He’s walking along with his own trolley full of food. Strawberries, grapes, protein shakes!”

A fitness fanatic, Archie is a keen gymnast and mixed martial artist, following in the footsteps of his 22-year-old brother Tom, a boxer. 

“From climbing up next door's fence, asking for choc ices as a toddler, to obviously his gymnastics….to boxing, karate, trampolining - it was just continuous exercise,” says Hollie. “I wouldn't change it for a minute though. He’s definitely kept me on my toes.”

It’s not just his sporting prowess she’s proud of. She describes a sensitive, fun loving comic. 

"He's happy 24/7... such a happy kid," says his mum. Credit: Hollie Dance

“He's uplifting, a smile every morning,” she says. “Me and Arch, we always wake up with a smile until someone puts that frown on our face. He's happy, 24/7, he's such a happy kid. Very, very rarely would you see Archie down. He’s doing well in big school, and happy.”

The legal battle for Archie's life

Archie’s classmates will be getting ready for the summer holidays now, having completed their first year of secondary school.

Before then, Archie and his family face another court date, the latest in a series that stretches back to late April, when Barts Health NHS Trust, which runs the Royal London Hospital started High Court proceedings. 

They wanted Archie to undergo a series of tests to see if he was, as they suspected, brain dead, and for a judge to decide what was in his best interests.

Despite Hollie’s concerns over the safety of the tests in Archie’s state, the medical evidence shared fell in favour of the tests, and so the judge agreed.

Hollie, and Archie’s father - her former partner, Paul Battersbee - are united in their belief that Archie is showing signs of life.

Hollie Dance, centre, with Archie's father Paul Battersbee and her son's fiancee Ella Carter. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Their battle has taken them all the way to an appeal, which has won them at least two more weeks to challenge the decision.

In cases like Archie’s, judges must make a difficult and complex decision.

The law does not explicitly define death, and campaigners say this case risks setting "a dark precedent". Whether it is in Archie’s best interests to remain on life support is at the heart of the case.

Hollie has argued that turning off Archie’s life support stands at odds with the family’s religious beliefs, and the family is being supported in its legal fight by the Christian Legal Centre.

Archie Battersbee has been on life support since being found unconscious at home in April. Credit: Hollie Dance

She describes monitoring for signs of improvement in his condition - changes in blood pressures, or a squeeze of the hand - as bolstering her faith in his recovery.

A community has rallied around the family, calling themselves “Archie’s Army” and adopting a purple uniform as they hold prayer vigils outside his home, and the hospital where he is being treated.

“It’s emotionally draining,” Hollie says. “I’ve had to educate myself on medication and legal matters. But, I’ve had an absolutely amazing team around me that are helping me with things. Everyone’s just pulled together. The support, from outside too, has been brilliant. My home town - amazing.”

'Archie has a right to live'

But the family has also faced backlash, with some making the case that prolonging Archie’s time on the machine will not bring him back.

Has she considered that there may come a time to let Archie go?

She admits some of the online attention has been disturbing, but questions how anyone criticising her could know Archie’s fate.

How could you possibly tell? None of us know,” Hollie says.

“Nobody can tell - you're not God. How could you possibly know? It's impossible to know. Nobody could know, unless you’re psychic. Nobody could know.”

The family together - Archie with mum Hollie, brother Tom, now 22, and sister Lauren, now 20. Credit: Hollie Dance

She takes inspiration from the story of Lewis Roberts, a Staffordshire teenager whose family was told he would not recover after being struck by a van.

They were told he was brain-stem was dead, only for him to begin breathing shortly before the organ donation process they had agreed to began.

He is now breathing and speaking, with a long road to recovery ahead of him - in a case that has led to reviews of how head injury patients are handled in intensive care.

His experience gives Hollie hope, and she says she feels a “gut” instinct about her son too.

“I can just feel it. I think as women we feel that connection, I know he’s in there. He needs time, he needs time to recover,” she says.

“Archie has a right, the same as everybody else, to live. He needs time to heal. We'll deal with anything after that with regards to rehabilitation or which way it's going to go. 

“Until God decides, then I will continue to fight for him and I will continue to be his voice."

Ultimately, Hollie says she believes the decision should rest with her, and with Archie’s father Paul.

“If you've got parents that want to say goodbye or want to give up, for their own personal reasons, that's absolutely fine, too," she says.

“But this is my choice. And I respect yours. Respect mine.”

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