A dog is a boy's best friend

Posted on Tuesday 30th July 2019
Evelina London patient, Mattia, with Budu the French bulldog

Mattia and a French bulldog named Büdu enjoying one of their regular play dates

A four-year-old boy, who was treated at Evelina London, and a French bulldog puppy have struck up an unlikely friendship after being diagnosed with the same heart defect.

Mattia Ferasin, four, from Hampshire, was born with a number of severe heart conditions and was treated for these at Evelina London. At just six days old, he underwent life-saving open heart surgery.

Mattia's parents, Heidi and Luca, are both veterinary cardiologists. During their time in hospital, they got to know Dr Caner Salih, a consultant paediatric cardiac surgeon who was part of the team caring for Mattia. Dr Salih had recently got a French bulldog puppy named Büdu and told the couple about a heart murmur that was detected at his first visit to the vet.

After Mattia was able to go home, Luca invited Dr Salih and Büdu to his practice in Hampshire, Lumbry Park Veterinary Specialists. There, Luca discovered that the dog had a ventricular septal defect – a hole in the heart – coincidentally one of the defects which had been successfully corrected during their son’s surgery.

Luca, 54, said: “When the image of the defect appeared on the screen of my ultrasound machine during Büdu’s examination, I was so surprised because it was one of the same congenital defects that Mattia had. Büdu’s defect closed spontaneously, within a year which was even more surprising. This outcome has only been reported in a couple of cases in veterinary history.”

This May, Heidi and Luca took part in the St Thomas’ Abseil to say thank you for Mattia's treatment. This 160ft abseil is an annual challenge that raises vital funds for Guy’s Hospital, St Thomas’ Hospital and Evelina London. Now in its fifth year, the abseil takes place on one of London’s most iconic hospital buildings, looking out onto the River Thames, with views of Big Ben, The Houses of Parliament and The London Eye. Donated funds raised through the abseil help the hospitals go above and beyond what the NHS can support.

Luca and Heidi were joined by a daredevil group of friends, colleagues and family members, known as Paw Pals. The team includes their Lumbry Park Veterinary Specialists colleagues Eoin Kilkenny, Vicki Cooper and Chris Tems. 

Heidi, 38, said: “We have always felt that we have a huge debt to the staff at Evelina London particularly, but also the staff at St Thomas’ Hospital where Mattia was born. We are very aware that without their skill, passion and compassion, Mattia may not be here today."

The mother-of-two added: “Thanks to the surgery and the ongoing care of the cardiology team, Mattia is a thriving, healthy and happy little boy who just celebrated his fourth birthday.” 

Professor David Anderson, the heart surgeon who operated on Mattia, says: “As I look back on my career it certainly brings a warm inward glow to see these children thriving and leading normal lives.” 

And as for Mattia's four-legged friend... Dr Salih says: “Büdu has now made a full recovery. He’s not the brightest dog in the world but he’s family.”

Our Evelina 150 Stories

Mattia's journey is part of a series of Evelina 150 Stories that we are sharing in celebration of our special 150th anniversary year. Throughout 2019, we are highlighting some of our amazing patients and also encouraging them to blog about their experiences.

150 years ago, Evelina London was brn out of love, when Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild founded the hospital in memory of his wife, Evelina. Since 1869, we've been saving lives, improving health and inspiring better futures.