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Sarah’s Story

Sarah was two years old when she was diagnosed with a heart condition.

“At that time, I was too little to have surgery – the doctors didn’t think I’d be able to cope.
By the time I was three, I had deteriorated, so I needed surgery. They did open heart repair surgery when I had just turned three. Then I had more open heart surgery – a full corrective operation – just before I turned four, to repair my faulty valve and close the hole in my heart. That was just before I started school.

As a young child, I didn’t know any better. I do remember being in hospital and going down to surgery in my gown, with my dolly in my arms, and I remember my mum having to leave me – it hit me then. I thought – oh my goodness – suddenly I’m scared.

Everything was normal until I went to university. When I turned 19, I had an annual check-up and I was told I would definitely need further surgery at some point.

I went travelling after university, and got a job. When I was 25, my doctors said ‘now is the time.’

That was around the time I met Sonya. She did an MRI scan of my heart, to try and find out when the best time for surgery was. They didn’t want it to be too early as that could compromise my quality of life at that time, but they also didn’t want to operate too late as I could deteriorate more.

Sonya was instrumental to working out when the best time for surgery was.

I didn’t realise how bad I’d been feeling until I had my valve replacement. Within a week of having my new valve, I felt better. I thought – oh! I’m not breathless!

I know that the work Sonya does will impact my future health. It may have already done so. It feels real. I won’t pretend to understand all of it as it’s very scientific, but at a broad level I can see the impact Sonya’s research has – it’s remarkable.

I’m incredibly lucky – I cannot complain with my overall wellbeing. I really want to be part of Sonya’s research. Anything I can do, whether it’s helping Sonya or working with the BHF, I will always find the time to do it.”

Sarah Howell