A school teacher and her family are celebrating this week, as they mark one year since the complex open-heart surgery that saved the life of one-year-old Florence, just days after she was born.
Laura Watling has organised a coffee morning at Hutton Village Hall this Saturday, 23 March, to raise money for the British Heart Foundation (BHF). The charity funded research into the pioneering ‘arterial switch’ operation performed on little Florence, and Laura says without this research, and the incredible skills and dedication of the team at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool where Florence was treated, her baby would not have survived.
Laura, of Hutton, said: “Florence was born with a condition called Transposition of the Great Arteries, or TGA, which means the main arteries in the heart – the aorta and the pulmonary artery – are connected to the opposite sides of the heart to where they should be. It is a rare condition but it is extremely serious, and without the arterial switch operation in the first few weeks it would be fatal."
Florence was born at Birmingham Women’s Hospital, as an issue with bed availability at Liverpool Women’s meant a last minute change of plan for the family.
Laura added: “There are only a few hospitals in the country that are equipped to look after new born babies with cardiac defects, so when there were no beds in Liverpool my husband and I had to drive down to Birmingham for the birth. Florence was so poorly when she was born that within a couple of hours she needed a procedure to allow blood to flow more easily between chambers in the heart to stabilise her.
“She was kept in intensive care in Birmingham for five days before a team came from Alder Hey to transfer her there for the open-heart surgery.
“It was a really traumatic and worrying time for us as parents. Handing her over to the team who took her to theatre was really hard – I was so worried that we would lose her. I still find it hard to talk about it now because I remember how helpless I felt, knowing there was nothing we could do but wait for the operation to be over. When we got the call to say she was in recovery and the surgery had been a success I was completely overwhelmed.”
The complex procedure, carried out by Alder Hey’s Chief of Congenital Cardiac Surgery, Mr Rafael Guerrero, was first developed by BHF Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub in the 1970s. In 1961, when the BHF was founded, 8 out of 10 babies born with a congenital heart condition like TGA died before their first birthday. Thanks to research, 8 out of 10 babies with these conditions now survive to adulthood.
“Florence’s recovery since the operation has been remarkable,” said Laura. “She is an utter delight, full of life and absolutely thriving. Thanks to the amazing team at Alder Hey, and the research of the BHF, she can now hope to enjoy a relatively normal life. Words can’t express how grateful we are.”
Going through this experience has led Laura to connect with other parents of children with congenital heart conditions, and incredibly, the event on Saturday will be attended by two other families with babies who have had the arterial switch operation.
“It’s definitely going to be quite special for us to finally meet in person, when we have communicated so much via email and online,” said Laura “TGA is fairly rare so to have three amazing survivor-babies in one place will be fantastic and will make the event even more meaningful for us.”
BHF Fundraising Manager Emma Dickinson said: “It has been an absolute pleasure meeting baby Florence and her family, and it is so touching that they have decided to give back to the BHF with this fundraising event.
“Heart defects are diagnosed in at least 1 in 180 births – that's an average of 12 babies each day in the UK – with more diagnoses later in life. Estimates suggest that as many as 1-2 per cent of the population may be affected, which means hundreds of families are going through the worry and stress of having a poorly baby, at a time which should be full of happiness and excitement.
“Through the amazing dedication of supporters like Laura and her family, we are able to fund research into these conditions, and others, helping to beat heartbreak from heart and circulatory diseases, forever.”
The coffee morning will start from 11am on Saturday and all proceeds will go to the BHF. To find out more about how you can support the BHF to help families like Florence’s, visit www.bhf.org.uk/fundraising