Girl, 3, diagnosed with hidden heart problem by a VET during pre-school sports day
Vet asked the children to listen to each others hearts with a stethoscope during a talk about her jobHelper realised Penny had an unusual heart rhythm
15:42 GMT, 27 July 2012
Penny, 3, pictured with mother Kate Riney, will have open-heart surgery in August
Penny Cope seemed a healthy, happy three-year-old as she rushed around at her pre-school's sports day.
But a chance visit from the local vet revealed the little girl had an unexpected and potentially fatal condition.
Vicky Tilston visited Penny's school Appleshaw in Hampshire to talk about her job, during which she asked the children to listen to each other's hearts with a stethoscope.
She was called over by the group's supervisor Trudie Tobutt, who had noticed Penny's heart had an unusual rhythm and made a 'whooshing' sound when she breathed.
Ms Tilston advised Penny's mother Kate Riney to get it checked out and next day the little girl had an ECG and a chest X-ray at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital at the end of June.
Doctors found she had a hole in the wall of her heart and a narrowing in the artery, blocking the flow of blood to her lungs. Penny is now preparing for open heart surgery to fix the problem.
Ms Riney, from Wherwell, said: 'If it hadn't been for the vet visiting the pre-school, this might not have been picked up in time.
'Penny has always been the healthiest little girl, running about everywhere.
'We had no reason to think there was anything wrong. When they found out about her heart condition, I just couldn't believe it. Words can't describe how I felt.
'There had been no symptoms at all. It makes me think she is definitely a strong little girl to have coped with it for three years. Someone is watching over Penny.'
Surgeons will decide on August 8th when to operate on Penny but it should be later in the month.
They hope a patch over the hole in her heart will solve the problem for life.
Ms Riney wants other parents to be aware heart problems are not always picked up.
Penny had an ECG at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester
She said Penny, who has a five-year-old sister Molly, had only ever suffered the usual coughs and colds and ultra-sound scans during pregnancy had not picked it up.
'She has never been a really sickly child so we had no idea at all,' she said.
Congenital heart disease is one of the most common types of birth defect, and affects an estimated six in every 1,000 babies born in England. Two main categories are septal defects (a hole between two of the heart's chambers) and obstruction defects where there is a blockage of the flow of blood through the chambers of the heart.
Symptoms of these conditions include breathlessness, tiring easily during exercise and swelling in the feet, however Penny showed no symptoms.