How tickled Sir Ken Dodd would have been to see wide-eyed tot Raees Hassan smiling back at him today.
Because it was the late comic’s big heart that has helped save the tiny one in this little fella.
Raess would not be here today if it hadn’t been for a charity the Liverpudlian legend set up shortly before he died.
And it was Ken’s widow Lady Anne Dodd who used its funds to pay for a special new machine at the city’s Alder Hey Children’s hospital that arrived in the nick of time to help save Raess.
Now she’s revealed how the news has lifted her through difficult days she still has after Ken’s death three years ago.
“That’s given me the greatest pleasure, knowing his work saved a life,” she said.
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And Raess’ mum Farah told us: “Ken and Anne Dodd gave Raess the chance to live. I feel so grateful.”
Her son was born at Oldham hospital in April last year weighing 6lb 10oz with a serious defect that meant the two main arteries in it were the wrong way around and left him struggling to breathe.
“He turned blue,” said Farah, who realised something was terribly wrong when he was six weeks old and at home.
He was rushed back to hospital “They found his oxygen levels were 30%, when they should be in the high 90s. There were 20 doctors and nurses rushing around him. It was so horrible to watch.”
He was diagnosed with transposition of the great arteries (TGA).
Farah said: “One side of his heart was bigger than the other and the valves problem meant clean blood was being sent to his lungs and impure blood to his body. He was being deprived of oxygen.
Tiny Raees was rushed to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Sir Ken’s home city of Liverpool where it was also found he had Covid-19
Farah and husband Aqeel feared the worst.
“Because of his Covid infection we couldn’t be near him. He looked so helpless,” said Farah.
“They called the next night and said his condition was deteriorating. It was unbearable. Every moment was gut-wrenching. Every phone call had my heart racing.
“Then they said it could be his last night. I remember me and my husband crying. They said we could visit. We had to see him in full PPE. He was lying with so many wires attached to him.”
It was then trainee barrister Farah, 24, and customer service advisor husband Aqeel, 26 – who also have son Ayaan, four – were told he was being put on the hospital’s new Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine.
It takes impure blood from the body, removes carbon dioxide and pumps oxygen-filled blood back in – acting as an external heart and lungs. And it was only thanks to The Ken Dodd Charitable Foundation that the hospital even had it.
Anne, 78, had donated £50,000 through the The Alder Hey League of Friends – a charity close to Sir Ken’s heart – just weeks before to pay for it.
“I understand no sooner had the machine received than it was needed urgently and saved the life of a very sick child,” said Anne. “Naturally I was so thrilled with this news when they told me.” Raees’ mum Farah said she can’t thank Anne enough for helping save her son’s life.
“I’m so grateful to her and her husband Ken. The ECMO, gave Raess’s organs the opportunity to rest and that saved his life.
“It’s an amazing piece of technology. And it’s people like Ken and Anne who donate to organisations that give people like Raess the chance to live. ”
Raess then was strong enough for a complicated a six-hour operation to correct his heart malformation – but the couple were warned that his chances of surviving that would be 50-50.
Two weeks after a successful op Raees was allowed home. Last month Farah and Aqeel watched as their smiling, cheeky boy celebrated his first birthday.
“There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t think about what could have happened. We were so lucky he had the strength and resilience to get through it with the help of the ECMO.”
“He’s a cheeky little thing. He loves his older brother. They play all day. You wouldn’t think he’d been through anything like this.
“He’s happy, healthy and has just started walking.
“When the Covid restrictions lift, I’d love to meet Anne and thank her in person. I’ll tell Raees when he’s older about who Ken was and how he and Anne helped save his life.” When Sir Ken died in 2018 aged 90, he left £28million.
The Knotty Ash comic married long term love Anne on his deathbed. She said he wanted to use his wealth to give back to the local services that meant something to him.
Since then Anne has overseen donations to Alder Hey, a new church hall for St John The Evangelist opposite his old home, Shakespeare North theatre company, Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital where he was treated before he died, and Clatterbridge Hospital, Wirral, where he was patron.
“Ken did anything for anybody,” said Anne. “He started off Ken Dodd Charitable Foundation before he died and a lot of his money has gone into that.
“It helps keep his spirit alive and keeps me going. He had no desire for the trappings of wealth and it was his wish most of his estate would go to charities close to his heart.
“The biggest thing is to do with our church hall. We’ve extended it, now it’s about to reopen. It was his first school. It will be the Sir Ken Dodd Happiness Hall for Church and Community.
“We’ve put a lot of money into the Ken Dodd Performance Garden for Shakespeare North in Prescot.
“They’re building an Elizabethan amphitheatre.” Renowned for his live stand-up performances, Sir Ken – was still wowing audiences in the months leading up to his death.
“The years dropped off him when he went on stage,” told Anne. “He was 90 when he did his last show. We were still doing two or three a week, four hours on stage, in his last year.
“He’d look 30 years younger when he stepped out on stage. He thrived on it.
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“He used to say ‘I’ve been blessed with this gift’ as he didn’t think he deserved it. He loved getting laughs out of people.”
A lifelong resident of Knotty Ash in Liverpool, Dodd’s career as an entertainer started in the mid-1950s.
His big break came in a 1965 London Palladium season in the Swinging Sixties and he even had a chart-topping hit, Tears, at the height of Beatlemania in his home city.
His most famous prop was his red white and blue tickling stick. “I still have a few around the house,” said Anne.
This month the normally private widow released The Squire of Knotty Ash and his Lady, an intimate biography of Sir Ken Dodd’s life.
Talking about their 40 years together, former Bluebell dancer Anne told about their low key marriage two days before Ken’s death.
“He was very poorly. But his voice was much louder than it had been in previous weeks. He said his vows crystal clear. I miss him.”
“He’d leave me little notes all the time, saying he loved me, which I still have. You don’t throw them away.”