Schoolgirl prepares for GCSEs after UK first landmark surgery

Posted on Wednesday 15th June 2022
Annabelle making a thumbs up sign

Annabelle Gardiner, 16, who was treated for hypoplastic left heart syndrome at Evelina London.

A schoolgirl is preparing for her GCSEs after undergoing life-saving, first of its kind surgery as a baby at Evelina London Children’s Hospital.

Annabelle Gardiner, 16, from Haslemere in Surrey, was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome when her mother Amanda was 20 weeks pregnant with her.

Thanks to the lifesaving surgery by Professor David Anderson, consultant heart surgeon, and Professor Shakeel Qureshi, consultant paediatric cardiologist, Annabelle is now sitting her GSCEs this month and ‘living life to the full’.

After being born under the specialist maternity care of St Thomas’ Hospital, Annabelle was taken to our co-located neonatal intensive care unit. In December 2005, when she was just three weeks old, she became the first child in the UK to undergo a pioneering operation, known as the hybrid procedure, by our specialist cardiology surgeons.

The hybrid procedure combines heart surgery with a catheter-based procedure, where a thin, flexible tube is carefully inserted through blood vessels into the heart.

Professor Anderson said: “As a surgeon specialising in cardiac surgery on babies and children, it is thrilling to hear how they have progressed through childhood into adult life. I am so pleased that Annabelle has got stuck into life like any other child growing up. We should all make the best of each and every day, which is what Annabelle has done. I must acknowledge the contribution of the whole team of doctors and nurses who all backed up Shak and I in bringing Annabelle and all others safely through. I know they share the joy and will wish Annabelle all the very best for the future.”

Hypoplastic left heart syndrome is very rare and is caused when the left side of the heart does not develop properly in the womb, which prevents blood from flowing around the body effectively. The operation helps the heart to function until a baby is strong enough for complex major heart surgery. Without surgery, the condition can be fatal within days or weeks of life.

Following the hybrid procedure at three weeks old, Annabelle went on to have major heart surgery at six months old and underwent another procedure in 2012 when she was six years old.

Her mum, Amanda, said: “Annabelle was born when I was 39 weeks pregnant via a caesarean section. I was warned she could die within hours of birth, and was rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit. She was very little and just weighed 5lbs and at first seemed to be doing well.

“Not long after, the doctors discovered that her left lung wasn’t working properly because the left pulmonary artery was absent. She started to become really unwell. We were told that she was too weak and too small for open heart surgery and the only option left was the hybrid procedure, which would be a stop gap until she was strong enough for major heart surgery. We were thrilled because Annabelle was really poorly and we had run out of options. She wouldn’t have made it otherwise.”

Annabelle is still under the care of Professor Qureshi and has yearly check-ups with the cardiology team, including some staff she first met when she was a baby.

Annabelle said: “I feel extremely lucky that I was the first person in the UK to have the procedure. I think it’s really cool and it’s something I enjoy telling my friends.

“I try to live my life to the full and I don’t let my heart condition get in the way of doing the things I enjoy. I love swimming, tap dancing and horse riding, which I’ve been doing since I was six years old.”

Amanda said: “It’s amazing seeing how far Annabelle has come. Her doctors have always encouraged us not to wrap her up in cotton wool and we have never treated her any differently. She is so full of life and is such a brave feisty girl. It’s incredible that she is doing her GCSEs given her very difficult start in life. We’re extremely thankful to the team at Evelina London for the care she received. They gave her a lifeline.”

Professor Qureshi said: “It has been so lovely seeing Annabelle grow up and develop into the fantastic, lively young woman she is today. The hybrid procedure was extremely pioneering at the time and paved the way for surgery for future children - it is still used today but less frequently. The procedure is performed soon after birth, in order to delay the time of complex open heart surgery until the baby is older and better able to withstand the surgery. It is a temporary fix which allows us to establish balanced blood flow to and from the left side of the heart and to the lungs.

“Annabelle has recovered brilliantly from the surgery and it gives me great joy to see how well she is doing. The cardiology team and I would like to wish Annabelle the very best of luck in her GCSEs and all future endeavours.”

Professor Qureshi was made a Knight Bachelor for his services to paediatric cardiology and charity in the New Year Honours.