Family thank Evelina London for saving their son's life

Last updated: Wednesday, 07 February 2024

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When Alexander was born shortly before Easter in 2018, his parents Liz and Christian were delighted to welcome their 3rd child into their family. There were no signs to suggest that he was anything other than a healthy baby.

However, when he was just 9 days old, he suddenly became very pale and seemed extremely unwell. Liz explains: "That evening, I started to worry. The next morning, I saw the health visitor who tried to reassure me that nothing was wrong. However, having had other children for several years I was sure things weren't right and I took him to the GP. The GP agreed something was wrong and sent us to our local hospital."

Liz and baby Alexander were in the hospital for 4 days. During this time, they couldn't get the ultrasound scan they needed as the only medic who was qualified to perform one was away and Alexander's parents were increasingly concerned. "Doctors kept telling us the situation wasn't urgent, but I just kept thinking how can they say that with any certainty when he hasn't had the tests he needs?"

A different doctor was on duty on Good Friday and at the start of his shift he explained to Liz and Christian that Alexander was very ill and needed to be in a specialist children's hospital. He told them that he had already contacted Great Ormond Street Hospital, but that they couldn't take him, so a specialist retrieval team, called the South Thames Retrieval Service (STRS), were on their way from Evelina London Children's Hospital.

"We were totally shell shocked. Not long afterwards, a team of 4 nurses arrived expecting to transfer Alexander in their special intensive care ambulance to Evelina London."

Unfortunately, just moments after they arrived, Alexander turned blue. He'd collapsed and was beginning to experience cardiac failure and it looked uncertain whether he would survive.

"The STRS team calmly took control of the situation. To transfer him to the hospital, they needed to get him onto a ventilator and give him an anaesthetic, but they couldn’t as his veins had collapsed."

It was touch and go whether he would survive but the team just didn't give up. We were taken into a room where a doctor from the hospital explained that our son was probably going to die. Meanwhile, the STRS team kept working on him for 6 hours and they eventually managed to anaesthetise him.


Due to the situation Alexander's veins were in, the team had only managed to get one IV line in. They explained that usually they would need to insert 2 lines to make the ambulance transfer, but they had to risk it as Alexander was going to die.

"The ambulance driver did an amazing job. He was driving as fast as he could, but he drove very carefully and didn't brake sharply at any point due to the risk that the line would come out."

Alexander was still alive when he arrived at Evelina London where he was immediately taken to the hospital's paediatric intensive care unit.

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Alexander in Evelina London's paediatric intensive care unit

The atmosphere in the unit was so calm. Dr Aaron Bell and another doctor were waiting for us with an ultrasound machine. He calmly explained that they would do an initial scan that would only take 5 minutes, then he would come and talk to us and do another scan that would take 30 minutes. These were the tests we had been waiting days for.

The tests revealed that Alexander had been born with more than one congenital heart condition, including a coarctation of the aorta and a bicuspid aortic valve (meaning the valve at the entrance to his aorta has 2 flaps instead of the normal 3). The most immediate issue was the coarctation – his aorta had a narrow section which was only between 1mm to 2mm wide stopping his blood from flowing into his body.

These conditions are not always detected during pregnancy and Alexander's conditions weren't apparent when he was born. The Evelina London team reassured Liz and Christian that it was treatable and that he would be operated on the following morning by Mr Caner Salih. To treat such a severe coarctation, they would need to cut out the narrowed part of the aorta and reconnect the 2 ends. Before the surgery Mr Salih explained the risks and that if the surgery could not be completed within a safe time limit the outcomes could be very serious, potentially including brain damage.

"We were a bit surprised when the operation finished earlier than we were told to expect, Mr Salih had managed to rejoin the aorta in an incredible 14 minutes, meaning Alexander didn't suffer any negative side effects."

After the surgery, Alexander stayed in intensive care for 3 days where he was cared for by an amazing team of nurses round the clock. Not only did they help him recover from his operation, they treated us, both traumatised by the week we'd been through with real kindness.

Then he was transferred to the cardiac ward where he stayed for 4 days before being discharged home.

5 years later, Alexander is at school and returns to Evelina London for check-ups.

Liz says:

Christian and I will be forever grateful to the STRS team and to Evelina London Children's Hospital for saving our son's life. We will continue to support the hospital in any way we can. The care we received showed us just how important it is that very sick children are treated in the right place, with the right expertise and diagnostic tests available 24/7.

"Everyone we came into contact with at Evelina London treated us with kindness and we just felt like we were in safe hands. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts."

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