Findon grand-mother tells heart-op story

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A FINDON woman and her grand-daughter who were both born with heart defects have had their experiences published in a book about cardiac care.

Jill Hilton, of Beech Road, had an operation in 1952 for a patent ductus arteriosus – a hole in the heart. Her grand-daughter Maggi-Mae was born with pulmonary vein stenosis – a narrowing of the vein that leads from the lungs to the heart. Their stories – decades apart – are told in a book to mark the British Heart Foundation’s 50th birthday and demonstrate the advancement of cardiovascular medical treatment.

“I remember vividly being taken in to the hospital,” said Jill. I was in hospital for three months. Today you can be in and out in hours. But I was lucky. The operation worked for me, I’m sure there were lots of children it didn’t work for.”

Memories of the treatment came flooding back for Jill, when 50 years later her daughter Wendi experienced problems during her first pregnancy.

Jill, 64, who is captain of Littlehampton Golf Club, said doctors induced hypothermia in her to slow her heart rate so they were able to operate.

“It was a risky procedure – I needed three operations altogether and although I can’t remember them I know how it must have been for Maggi when she had her surgery. The surgery and treatment available today is so incredible that I felt we should share our family’s story in this book as testament to charities like the BHF.”

In the book, called 50 Years at the Heart of Health, Maggi’s mum Wendi said: “The doctors first noticed problems at the 20-week scan but when Maggi was born, they gave her the all-clear. As a baby she was prone to chest infections and never fed well. I knew something was wrong but didn’t know what. Maggi, four, was found to have stenosis, a rare condition often misdiagnosed as asthma.

Maggi was just over a year old when she had the first of four operations. Surgeons used the hole in her heart to get to the vein, and use a serrated balloon to cut and stretch the vein.

Wendi said: “The second operation was six months later, and Maggi started crawling. The third time she started walking. After the fourth, in September 2009, she was running and jumping.”

Maggi’s family said she has been given a new lease of life and are now proud supporters of the BHF.

A spokeswoman for the BHF said: “The amazing progress we’ve seen over five decades has slashed heart disease death rates. In 1961, there were around 166,000 deaths from coronary heart disease in Great Britain, this was halved to around 80,000 in 2009. However, heart disease is still our biggest killer, and heart failure is on the rise. The closing chapter of the book emphasises that regenerative medicine will be hugely important if we’re to stem this tide, and that’s why we launched the Mending Broken Hearts appeal in our birthday year.”

The book is available from www.giftshop.bhf.org.uk and costs £30 with all proceeds going to the charity.