Jo worked in fashion retail and management before taking a career break to have her two daughters, Melissa (24) and Cissy (18). When Jo was 20 weeks pregnant with Cissy, she was sent to Guy’s Hospital for a fetal echocardiogram following a routine antenatal scan. Her families’ world changed forever when their unborn baby was diagnosed with a serious, complex heart condition. Cissy was born at Guy’s Hospital in August 1999. She went on to have heart surgery in 2000 and again in 2001.
When Cissy was a baby, Jo felt very isolated and sought out other families who understood the fear and uncertainty that having a baby with a serious health problem brings. This led her to join ECHO (Evelina Children’s Heart Organisation), a charity set up to enable parents with ‘heart babies’ to support each other. After first becoming a Trustee, then the Chair of Trustees, Jo was appointed Chief Executive of the charity. As ECHO grew, Jo steered the charity through incorporation to become a charity limited by guarantee, ensuring a sustainable, robust and secure future for the charity and the families it supports.
Cissy became critically ill after heart surgery in 2010 and spent four months in intensive care. Jo witnessed first-hand the amazing efforts of staff who fought to keep Cissy alive and to get her accepted onto the heart transplant waiting list, all whilst keeping up the spirits of her family. She was eventually the recipient of a new heart in September 2010, aged 11, at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle. The nature of Cissy’s very complex health issues has meant treatment by many different specialisms at Evelina London, and even other hospitals, including orthopaedics, physiotherapy, plastic surgery, ear, nose and throat services (ENT), kidney transplant services, oncology and, not surprisingly, psychology. She has recently transitioned from paediatric to adolescent/adult care, which brings with it new challenges.
Jo’s experience has given her a unique insight into the challenges faced by parents of children with multiple health conditions and how other hospitals work, and this has confirmed to her how special Evelina London really is.