A Coleraine mother, whose infant daughter underwent heart surgery at a Belfast children’s cardiac unit when she was just a few days old, has appealed for public support to keep the service open.
Pamela McCormick and daughter Samantha, from Greenhill Court, were among hundreds who took part in a protest march to support the retention of paediatric cardiac surgery at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.
Children and their families took part in the demonstration, which saw them walk from the Royal to gather at the Public Health Agency building at Linenhall Street on Saturday morning. The march is part of the Hands Up for Heart Surgery campaign.
Little Samantha - now aged four - underwent vital corrective heart surgery for aortic stenosis, coarctation of the aorta and a ventricular septal defect- just eleven days after she was born on November 20, 2008.
Mum Pamela discovered during her pregnancy that her unborn child would need the operation following scans at both Causeway Hospital and the Royal Victoria Hospital.
“The cardiologist, Dr Casey, told me that my baby did have issues which would need surgery,” Pamela told the Times.
“Samantha spent ten hours in surgery when she was just 11 days old. She was paralysed and sedated for six days following her surgery in Cardiac Intensive Care and was then moved to the Clark Clinic ward to continue her remarkable rehabilitation for a further three weeks.”
Pamela recalled: “This is an amazing ward, the support you get is unreal. It’s like this wee family of doctors, nurses and family liaisons who are all there for you. It’s incredible.”
Samantha - who now attends the Playhouse Activity nursery in Coleraine - will continue to be monitored at the RVH but may need further surgery throughout her life.
Pamela added: “Forcing children over to England for surgery is unacceptable as a child with a heart condition must be within three hours of the nearest unit.”
Concerns about the future of paediatric cardiac surgery at the Royal were first raised back in August last year, when Health Minister Edwin Poots confirmed that the service was under consideration.
Instead, he will consider a string of options, which could include sending children to Dublin or England for operations instead.
Some parents - including Pamela - fear that having to move very sick children out of Belfast for surgery would jeopardise their health.
“They just cannot close this unit, the parents and families would be lost without it,” Pamela added.
A report earlier last year said that there were “potential safety risks” at the Belfast surgery, because not enough operations were being carried out – only about 90 per year.
However Pamela challenged the statistic: “The 90 children a year statistics that they are going by is a random year they picked out as statistics show that one in every hundred babies will be born with heart disease or a defect.
“They are comparing numbers to that of English hospitals and given the size of Northern Ireland, there is no comparison.
“We shouldn’t need to fight for this service to save the lives of our children in Northern Ireland. Where, other than a Third World country would you get this?”
The Children’s Heartbeat Trust is leading the Hands Up campaign to save the local surgery, Its executive officer Sarah Quinlan said: “This march is one of our last opportunities for everyone to make their voice heard on the vital issue of safeguarding the provision of children’s heart surgery in Northern Ireland.”
The government consultation received over 600 responses, the vast majority of which have indicated support for an all-island network of children’s heart surgery, which supports the views held by experts and clinicians in the UK and Ireland.