Baby girl becomes youngest ever to have life-saving operation after heart swells to twice its normal size
Phoebe was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect that meant the blood vessels that supplied blood to her heart were not connectedOne in 20,000 newborns have the condition and 90 per cent don't survive beyond their first birthday without surgery



15:15 GMT, 14 August 2012

A four-week old baby girl has become the youngest Briton to receive a life-saving cardiac operation, after her heart swelled to twice its normal size within days of her birth.

Phoebe Whittle was born with a congenital defect which gave her tiny heart only a third of the oxygen it needed to work.

As a result, Phoebe’s heart ballooned to twice its size – swelling from the size of a walnut to the size of an orange.

But Phoebe, who was dubbed
‘Braveheart’ by her parents Charlotte, 27 and Carl, 32, made an amazing recovery following
groundbreaking surgery at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital.


phoebe a week after surgery


Phoebe Whittle and mum Charlotte

Recovery: Phoebe a week after her life-saving surgery (left) and now with her mother Charlotte (right)

Mrs Whittle said: 'It’s horrible to think the pain she was going through. She looked healthy on the outside for those first few weeks but inside she was so poorly.

'But she’s meant to be here and it’s incredible the recovery she’s made. She was home within ten days and it can take babies up to four weeks to be ready to come home.

'She’s tiny for her age but we’re all just so glad she’s here.'

She overcame a bout of pneumonia when she was just a week old but her family from Aspull, Lancashire, were left fearing for her health once again on Mother’s Day this year.

Scans at Royal Bolton Hospital raised concerns over her heart and she was rushed to Alder Hey, in Liverpool, in a critical condition on March 19.

She was diagnosed ALCAPA,
Anomalous Left Coronary Artery from the Pulmonary Artery, that meant the
artery to her heart muscle was connected incorrectly, starving it of

Within hours doctors confirmed a high risk life-saving five hour operation, called a Coroary Artery /08/14/article-2188212-148A096B000005DC-356_634x381.jpg” width=”634″ height=”381″ alt=”Phoebe two days after surgery at Alder Hey hospital. Doctors were amazed at how quickly she recovered” class=”blkBorder” />

Phoebe two days after surgery at Alder Hey hospital. Doctors were amazed at how quickly she recovered

Charlotte said: 'I felt
like I was a bit of a fraud taking her back to hospital after her
pneumonia but one of the nurses noticed she was starting to go blue.

the time I don’t think I understood the enormity of the nurse taking
that blood test. It was her quick thinking that saved her life and got
her to Alder Hey.

'We were told her condition was life threatening and that surgery would be needed to save her life.

'If they hadn’t checked the blood we could have taken her home and just found her dead one morning.

can’t look at photos of Phoebe in those first few weeks, its just too
upsetting. She just couldn’t breathe and there was no way she could tell

The condition affects around one in 20,000 newborns and is often not detected until weeks or months after birth.

Doctors took Phoebe straight into theatre for heart surgery and prepared her parents for a long and difficult recovery.

After spending three days in intensive care and a week in the cardiac ward, Phoebe was able to go home with her parents and 19-month-old brother Louis.

Relief: Phoebe is held by her mother Charlotte a week after the operation to fix her heart defect

Relief: Phoebe is held by her mother Charlotte a week after the operation to fix her heart defect

The timely surgery should now see Phoebe live a normal life with regular check-ups and medication to help regulate her heartbeat.

Charlotte praised staff at the Bolton hospital for the checks on her heart that ultimately saved her and said she now looks back on the days of Phoebe’s surgery as a bad dream.

She said: 'It’s amazing to look at her now, I thought we had lost her. They prepared us for the worst and said it would be horrific for months afterwards but then she recovered so quickly.

'It’s so emotional to look back on now. At the time I held it together but I’ve been worse since, constantly checking her breathing and that she’s okay.

'It’s scary to think what could have happened because she did nearly die. Even though she made such a good recovery, she has still has a way to go to be the size she should be for her age.

'We’ve still got a long road to go but we know what we’re dealing with now.'

Dr Rob Johnson Consultant Paediatric Cardiologist at Alder Hey Hospital explained how the condition can often be diagnosed as just a cold.

He said: 'She is the youngest we’ve operated on and was lucky in some ways because she was diagnosed at half the age some children are.

'Often, like Phoebe’s case of pneumonia, the condition is often diagnosed as just a heavy cold so ALCAPA can take several heart scans to detect.

'It’s quite a subtle condition to pick up even when you’re dealing with a specialist centre like you are here, it can be difficult to pin down.

'The ultrasound tests we did at Alder Hey meant we were able to identify the abnormality.

'The blood vessels that supply blood to the heart are not connected so the heart beats at a lower pressure and is not fully saturated with oxygen.

'As a result the heart swells and enlarges and Phoebe’s heart was double the size it should have been.

'As in Phoebe’s case, it gets worse after birth but it is hard to detect as babies’ heartbeats are often fast. This means they can mask defects such as ALCAPA.

Alder Hey hospital prepare Phoebe for the life-saving surgery. She spent three days in intensive care afterwards

Alder Hey hospital prepare Phoebe for the life-saving surgery. She spent three days in intensive care afterwards

'The operation is still a fairly high risk procedure. The heart muscle is already sick at the start of the procedure and whilst the operation is usually a success, there is a period afterwards where the heart cannot cope on its own.

'That meant we had to provide mechanical assistance to help the heart still pump blood all round the body.

'Phoebe’s recovery time was remarkable, it’s usually three or four weeks before babies of this age are ready to go home.

'There’s only seven centres that do this procedure nationally and we were really pleased we could help.

'Phoebe hit the sweet spot of the NHS. The team in Bolton did a great job spotting it and we have great surgeons here who provided an excellent outcome for Phoebe and her family.'

Charlotte and Carl organised a sponsored spinathon in July for the Ronald McDonald House at Alder Hey, a purpose built facility that allows parents to stay on site whilst children undergo operations.

Charlotte said: 'Had this facility not been available we would have been sleeping on chairs at Phoebe’s bedside.

'The house allows families to be two minutes away from their sick child giving a little peace of mind at such a horrendous time.

'It also means that your other children have somewhere to stay and play so you don’t have the added feelings of being torn between your sick and
healthy children.'

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