Today we celebrate 70 years of the NHS. And all the people in this article have a big reason to say thank you, as none of them would be here today without its expert care
Weighing in at an unhealthy 18-and-a-half stone, South Shore joiner Robert Hudson had already lost his dad and brother to heart failure.
And when he went to see his GP suffering from the flu, only to be diagnosed with a serious problem himself, the future looked bleak.
But thanks to the expertise of surgeons, who carried out open heart surgery, the 51-year-old is still here – and a completely changed man at that.
Now literally a shadow of his former self, slimmed down Robert, who lives in Elswick Place with his wife Helen, now teaches swimming at Palatine Leisure Centre, and biking proficiency classes at schools across the Fylde coast.
He also competes in triathlons – raising cash for the hospital that saved his life.
He said: “My surgeon told me if I had not had the intervention I have been dead by Christmas. It’s that simple.
“I owe everything to the NHS. The life I live today is the life they have given me.”
Robert’s dad William had a heart attack in 1980, aged just 55, and his brother Richard was only 52 when he collapsed playing rugby in 2000.
Robert, 12 when his dad died, said: “The next father figure along the line, who brought me up, was Richard. I got very close to him but when I was in my early 30s he also died.”
The captain of rugby side Garstang, and playing at Millom, Richard fell poorly and collapsed on the side of the pitch – “and died on the spot,” Robert said. “It was on the cards that I may have an hereditary condition.”
After catching the flu in 2012, Robert went to see his family doctor, and was asked about his heart murmur – which he was not aware of.
“That hit me like a brick wall,” he said. “It was the start of the journey.”
Robert went to Blackpool Victoria Hospital and was diagnosed with killer condition aortic valve stenosis, one of the most common and serious heart problems.
He said: “Then it was a case of more tests, which worked towards open heart surgery. They needed to cut out the valve and replace it with a mechanical one. The journey through theatre was just amazing. What quickly fell into place was the cardiac rehabilitation, which is unique and delivered this amazing system of rehab to get you back up and running.”
With the help of expert medics, Robert lost five stone over the course of the next year – and came out the other side “nice and fit and healthy,” he said.
Unable to cope with being a joiner, he decided to help others going through similar situations and, with the aid of the cardiac team and Blackpool Council, he retrained as a sports coach.
“I now help people get fit and healthy, after surgery or as part of their own journey.”
And where would Robert be without the NHS in his time of need? “The truth of that would be I would just be with my brother and father,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that happen through open heart surgery, and with aortic valve stenosis, they only tell you a few things when you are in the clear.
“It was in my last meeting, 12 months after the operation, that they told me it is connected to sudden death syndrome. You don’t get ill or have a heart attack, you just die.”
Just three years after his operation, Robert completed a nine-hour swim across the length of Windermere, raising £1,500 for Blackpool Victoria Hospital’s in-house charity, the Blue Skies Hospitals Fund.
“The finish line party with all my team and friends and family truly made my dream come true,” he said.
Supported by his navigator and mentor Graham Brook, he completed the swim from Fell Foot to Low Wray in nine hours and 12 minutes. He also help to found the Blackpool Athletics Triathlon Squad.
He added: “I also want to show other cardiac patients that life does not have to come to a standstill after surgery. I have a strong lust for life and fitness plays a big part of my new life after my open heart surgery.”
Little Thomas was born with a rare heart condition called transposition of the great arteries, where the two main blood vessels leaving the heart are switched – meaning that blood flows to the lungs and picks up oxygen, but is then pumped back to the lungs instead of travelling around the body.
He was rushed to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool for life-saving heart surgery just days after he was born in July 2016.
He later suffered a serious heart attack at his South Shore home, and was saved by dad Tom who performed CPR on the youngster while waiting for paramedics to arrive.
After then bouncing back from a chest infection, the youngster made it home for Christmas.
“We were at Blackpool Vic the other day and the nurses gave him a little toy dog with lights on it, and people have been sending gifts in the post,” mum Kerrylee Glass said.
“Everyone has been so supportive.”
Josh, Jayden And Jax Williams-Hine
The mum of the little triplets Josh, Jayden and Jax Williams-Hine said a thank you to the NHS staff whose hard work meant she got to see her babies grow up.
Lena Williams said the boys were doing ‘really well’ ahead of their third birthday earlier this year – after they were born at Blackpool Victoria Hospital in 2015.
Medics fought to save their lives, with some coming in on their day off and working overtime and extra shifts to ensure the youngsters’ survival.
Their doting mother said the decision by a consultant to give her steroid injections twice in the two weeks earlier made all the difference.
“I don’t think they would have been here if I did not have them,” Lena said. “It matured their lungs. If I had not had them, God knows what would have happened.”
Dad-of-three Darren suffered a heart attack on a community run, but was back on track after quick thinking volunteers and medics saved his life.
Fellow runners used a defibrillator to keep him alive long enough to have a bypass op at Blackpool Vic.
“I mean, I was dead face down,” he said. “Right the way through the line from the people at the run to the NHS nurses, consultants and doctors at Royal Preston and Blackpool Victoria Hospital, I didn’t see it all because I was unconscious but I owe them a lot.”
Sporty Sam was hit on the head by a cricket ball, causing a massive bleed on the brain.The former Hodgson pupil told The Gazette how only timely action by surgeons – in the same op performed on F1 legend Michael Schumacher – saved his life.
Former county councillor Tony had six very important words to say when he made a return visit to county hall earlier this year – “Thank you for saving my life.”
Last September, Tony collapsed in the council chamber, moments after an emotional speech at an extraordinary meeting of the full council. He had no pulse for 41 minutes after suffering a cardiac arrest.
He later had a quadruple heart bypass at Blackpool Victoria Hospital – and praised the NHS medics who cared for him.
Plucky Summer had a major operation to remove two brain tumours, which were found during a routine eye exam.
Her mum Amie Barnes said: “They sent her to Blackpool Vic and had an MRI the next morning they told us.
Despite her ordeal, with the Staining Primary School pupil undergoing the knife at Manchester Children’s Hospital, Summer hasn’t been fazed.
Amie added: “It was a grade one tumour which means that it wasn’t cancerous, but she may still need some chemotherapy to get rid of the cells left over.
“Summer has been really brave.”
Little Annaiya was born with a hole in the heart so severe that doctors feared she wouldn’t last the night.
But the youngster underwent six major heart operations at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital – and is now enjoying ice creams and family trips to the beach with mum Avneet, and dad Sundeep.
Sundeep, who lives on South Strand in Fleetwood, said: “Surgeons only come into your life for a few hours but they can change a life forever. What they have done for us is incredible.
“My daughter is now going to be able to grow up and have children and grandchildren of her own.”
Carson-Jay and Carter-Jay
Rosie Sargeant feared both she and her babies, Carson-Jay and Carter-Jay, would die after giving birth at Blackpool Victoria Hospital last April.
She had rushed to hospital in agony and underwent an emergency c-section – with her sons weighing less than a pound of flour.
The babies weighed just 2lb 5oz and 2lb 10oz at birth, with Carter-Jay being resuscitated by doctors three times to save his life.
Rosie, who lives on Branstree Road, Mereside, with her partner Jack Staff, said: “It was really scary. I honestly thought they were going to die.
“All I can remember after I had given birth is the doctors and nurses dashing about everywhere doing everything to make sure our boys were getting the best care they could.
“All the staff at Blackpool Victoria were amazing. I owe my life to them.”
War hero Philip, who helped defeat the Nazis following D-Day was one of the oldest people in Lancashire to have a specialist heart procedure.
His daring and spirit in June 1944, when he helpedcapture the French port of Cherbourg with the Royal Engineers, came four years before the National Health Service was even born– and led to him being awarded France’s highest military distinction for his ‘acts of the utmost bravery’.
And the 93-year-old’s service to his country was re-paid when medics at the specialist Lancashire Cardiac Centre,based at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, gave him a Transcatheter Aortic Valve Implantation(TAVI).
He said: “I feel great now, and it’s all thanks to the people at the Cardiac Centre.