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Teen born with heart condition becomes championship sailor

Posted on Thursday 21st December 2017
Evelina London patient and champion sailor Billy Vennis Ozanne sailing a two man boat

Billy Vennis-Ozanne competing in 29er two-man boat.

A teenager who had life-saving heart surgery at Evelina London Children’s Hospital as a baby represented the UK at the Youth Sailing World Championships in China.

Billy Vennis-Ozanne was born with transposition of the great arteries (TGA), a condition which meant that the two main blood vessels in his heart connected to the wrong heart chambers. At just two weeks old he had open heart surgery at Evelina London Children’s Hospital.

The surgery was successful, and although he is now a fit and healthy 18 year old, Billy needed to be monitored closely at Evelina London well into his teenage years. He showed how far he has come by coming 20th in this year’s world championships. Billy and his family believe it would not have been possible without the care he has received at Evelina London.

Whilst studying for his A Levels, Billy has been practicing with the British national sailing team in his spare time. He hopes to start university in 2018, and to be a member of Team GB at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.

Dr Owen Miller, consultant in children’s cardiology at Evelina London has kept in contact with the Vennis-Ozanne family.

Dr Miller said: “If left untreated Billy’s condition could have been fatal, he had to undergo an ‘arterial switch’ procedure at just 14 days old to reconnect the arteries the right way round.

“We are all very proud of his success as a sailor. We watched Billy’s progress at the world championships and are delighted with his top 20 finish!”

Despite having no background in sailing, Billy showed a natural skill for the sport and began racing at his local sailing club at the age of five. In 2011 Billy competed in his first national under-13s sailing competition. Before competing he had an MRI scan and fitness test at Evelina London as a check-up but he passed with flying colours.

Billy has taken part in sailing events across Europe, winning several trophies along the way.

This year Billy has moved up to compete in “29er” boats, only one step down from the Olympic class “49er” sailing boats for adults. Billy beat 150 other competitors to win the 2017 National 29er championship in the UK.  He followed this up with a ninth place finish at the 2017 European 29er championships in Brittany, France, and was the top placing British competitor. His success at the 29er level led to him being selected to represent the UK at the Youth Sailing World Championships in China.

Billy said: “I am very proud to have represented the UK at the Youth Sailing World Championships - it's a dream come true. It’s taken a lot of hard work to get to this point, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help and support of my parents and the great team at Evelina London Children’s Hospital.

“It’s been great to stay in touch with Dr Miller who has helped care for me over the years. In 2013 I did a fundraising sail and bike ride to raise money for the hospital so they can continue to help other children who suffer from heart conditions.”

Billy’s father Andre Ozanne said: “Billy is an incredible boy and we are very proud of him. We also want to say a massive thank you to the staff at Evelina London for all their help. It’s been a long, exciting journey from the early dark days of living at the hospital with a very sick baby.

“To see him develop into a grown man who has achieved such great things in a short amount of time has been incredible, and those dark days are long gone and forgotten about, with only his scar to tell the story. We are forever grateful to the doctors at Evelina London who have helped Billy to get to where he is today. Without their amazing work he would not be here.”

Find out more about heart services at Evelina London.

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