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Marathon dad praises cardiology team on son's first birthday

Posted on Monday 9th May 2022
Graham Samantha and Ronnie at the beach

Graham, Samantha and Ronnie

A father has celebrated his son’s first birthday by praising our children’s hospital for saving the little boy’s life.

One-year-old Ronnie Sykes, from Forest Hill in south London, became seriously ill with a congenital heart defect called Wolff Parkinson White Syndrome when he was three weeks old.

The condition causes the heart to beat abnormally fast for periods of time and if left untreated can be fatal.

Ronnie’s father Graham Sykes, 36, said: “Ronnie was born on April Fools’ Day last year and as far as we could tell as new parents he seemed like a normal healthy newborn baby. But a few weeks after his birth, my wife and I realised something wasn’t quite right. He didn’t seem like himself and he looked like he was in pain. His condition got worse and he started struggling to breathe. After contacting 111 we were advised to take him to A&E.

“When we arrived at our local hospital what transpired was one of the most harrowing experiences of our lives. The doctors told us that Ronnie’s heart was beating extremely fast and they couldn’t get it to slow down. His heart rate was over 280 beats per minute and we were told that if it stayed that high his body would start shutting down. He was extremely ill and we were warned it was touch and go. We felt so powerless as we watched by his bedside in the resuscitation room a team of medics desperately trying to keep him alive throughout the night. It was an extremely scary time. We were terrified.”

Doctors at Ronnie’s local hospital contacted our specialist cardiology team for advice on life-saving treatment. After hours of trying to stabilise his heart rate the team reached a point where they felt he could be safely transferred to Evelina London for specialist care by the South Thames Retrieval Service, in a specially-designed intensive care ambulance.

Graham said: “When the South Thames Retrieval Service came to collect Ronnie he was in a very bad way and the doctors thought they might have to put him in an induced coma. Thankfully he stabilised but he was still extremely sick when we arrived at Evelina London.

“The atmosphere in the intensive care unit was very calm and ordered and the consultant quickly diagnosed Ronnie with Wolff Parkinson White Syndrome. He was given life-saving treatment to help his heart function normally and his condition began to steadily improve. He was cared for around the clock for the following few days before being moved to a general ward.

“I really believe that if it wasn’t for the amazing care at Evelina London he wouldn’t be here now. Without their swift help, world-class knowledge, amazing facilities, compassion and unwavering care he may not have made it.”

Ronnie spent six nights in hospital before being discharged home to finish recovering. He received a heart treatment called atenolol for a year, which is given orally in a syringe.

Ronnie continues to have regular check-ups with our cardiology team. He is now a healthy toddler and celebrated his first birthday at the beginning of April.

Graham said: “Ronnie turning one felt really special after he was so ill. We’re planning a big celebration in May with our friends and family.

“Ronnie has no complications and his doctors have said the outlook for children who have been successfully treated is normal. He is a very happy active baby and loves playing with his musical instruments and wooden blocks. You wouldn’t know he had such a difficult start in life.”

Graham is taking part in the London Marathon in October to raise funds for Evelina London Children’s Charity.

Graham said: “Taking part in the London Marathon is my way of saying thank you to the amazing staff at Evelina London who looked after Ronnie. Everyone involved in his care was amazing and the level of care was phenomenal. The nurses, staff and consultants were all so understanding, empathetic and compassionate. I couldn’t thank them enough. We owe Ronnie’s life to them.”

Owen Miller, consultant in paediatric and fetal cardiology, and Joint Clinical Director at Evelina London, said: “Ronnie is a delightful little boy and we are so pleased he is doing well and are extremely thankful to Graham for his fundraising.

“The cardiology service at Evelina London is internationally recognised. We see around 6,000 children a year and our specialist teams are able to treat a wide range of heart conditions.”

You can donate to Graham’s fundraiser on their JustGiving page.