The anaesthetist for my surgery, aged three, also cared for me aged 26 - a gap of 23 years
Sarah Howell, 34, has been under the care of Royal Brompton since birth. She was born with tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital condition causing a number of structural abnormalities in the heart. These defects mean that oxygenated and non-oxygenated blood mixes, causing the overall amount of oxygen in the blood to be lower than normal.
“At birth, my parents were told I had a heart murmur, but the extent of the condition wasn’t diagnosed until I was two,” says Sarah. “They knew I had a hole in my heart and there was every chance that this might close up without need for surgery, but that wasn’t the case.”
Sarah had her first operation when she was three to create a surgical connection (shunt) to increase blood supply to her lungs. A year later she had surgery to repair the hole between the two chambers of her heart. Her teenage years were spent travelling to regular check-ups, and in 2009 as an adult she had further surgery to replace a valve that had stopped working effectively.
“Heart surgery as a child was scary because I had very little understanding of why I needed it and what was wrong,” says Sarah. “But as an adult, I knew the details of the procedure and, by the time I had surgery, I could feel the effects of my weakening heart. The pain of surgery lasts for several months, but the benefits were evident within a week; I hadn’t realised how little energy I had pre-surgery and I felt infinitely better almost immediately. I’m proud of my scar; it’s my medal that I wear with pride every day.”
“Royal Brompton has cared for me ever since birth and, all being well, they’ll continue to care for me in the future,” adds Sarah, who works as a brand consultant. “The consistency of this medical relationship is hugely reassuring and is key to my ongoing good health. In fact, the anaesthetist for my surgery, aged three, also cared for me aged 26 – a gap of 23 years – the perfect illustration of a lifetime of specialist care! I continue to attend regular cardiology clinics at Royal Brompton so that my heart is continuously monitored.
“Undergoing open heart surgery three times is the biggest and most important achievement of my life. Without Royal Brompton and everything they have done for me over the last 30 odd years, it is safe to say I wouldn’t be here today.”