Graduate returns to thank Evelina London heart team for saving her life

Last updated: Monday, 19 February 2024

Children's models

Emily with Professor David Anderson

On her graduation day, just one day before the beginning of Heart Month, 21-year-old Emily met with Professor David Anderson, the consultant heart surgeon who performed 4 of her heart surgeries, to thank him and the team for their care.

Emily said:

I wanted to make my special day even more special by visiting the team who cared for me for so long. David did my last open-heart operation when I was 13, and I didn't get the chance to thank him. He and his team are the only reason I'm here now, and I wanted to show him what I've gone on to achieve with the life he's given me.

During her 20-week scan, Emily's mum was told that Emily had hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a condition that means the left ventricle in the heart doesn't develop properly in the womb and is fatal without surgery.

Her care was transferred from her local hospital to the specialist heart service at Evelina London Children's Hospital so that Emily's health could be monitored before birth and the best care planned for when she was born.

To correct her condition, Emily needed to have a Norwood procedure, the first of 3 surgeries usually spread over the first 3 years of a child's life. Emily was less than a week old when she had the first surgery, and went on to have the rest of the surgeries at 18 months and 3 years old.

During these surgeries, the team noticed that one of the valves in her heart, the tricuspid valve, wasn't working properly. Unusually for this procedure, they attempted to repair the valve during the surgery.

When Emily was 13, she started to feel unwell. Emily said: "I had supraventricular tachycardia, which is when your heart suddenly beats much faster than normal. My heart would race and I would have heart palpitations and get dizzy. The first time this happened I was at my grandparents' house. My granny told me to lie down for a bit and then I felt fine.

I didn't think anything of it until the nurse at my school noticed my symptoms and told me that it was serious.

Emily needed to have another surgery to replace the tricuspid valve, and install a pacemaker. She recovered well, and returned to Evelina London yearly for regular check-ups. Despite having to miss school during her GCSE year to replace the battery in her pacemaker, she managed to get 8 GCSEs and 3 A-Levels.

Emily has now graduated from the University of Roehampton with a bachelor's degree in primary education and is completing a postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE) at the University of Derby. She said: "I always knew I wanted to work with children. Ever since I was little I would teach my imaginary friends, my teddies, and anyone else who would listen to me. I knew teaching was what I should do."

"Being in hospital a lot as a kid really taught me how to be nice to people. Interacting with nurses when I was on the wards helped show me that being polite is important, even when you're tired or in pain. This really helps me now when I'm working with children in my classes, who are having big feelings but unable to express them. I remember what that was like, and I channel the same patience that the nurses had."

David Anderson said:

It is massively gratifying to see how much she has achieved and it is a testament to her positive attitude to life. It's so pleasing to see that she's living her life to the fullest, which is what we hope all of our patients are able to do. The way she makes the best of each day is inspirational.

Read Emily's blog to find out more about her experience at Evelina London.

Evelina London provides hospital care and treatment at both our purpose-built children's hospital on the St Thomas' Hospital site and at Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals. We care for families in our local areas and provide an extensive range of specialist services for children with rare and complex conditions from all over the south east of England.

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