George Howell, now 16, is one of many patients who were once treated at Great Ormond Street Hospital and now continue to visit for check-ups. He took some time to talk to us about his experience and explain what he remembers of his time here.
George was first here in 1995 for a major operation. He was only two weeks old at the time, but knows a lot about the condition that brought him to the hospital: “I was treated at Great Ormond Street Hospital because I had to have an operation for transposition of the great arteries. My aorta (the large artery leading out of the left side of the heart, supplying the body with oxygenated blood) and pulmonary artery (the artery that carries de-oxygenated blood from the heart to the lungs) were the wrong way round.”
This relatively rare condition (one in every 4,000 babies) is almost always diagnosed in the first hours after birth. It’s life-threatening and in order to survive, babies need special therapy urgently. George’s family and doctors were well aware of the dangers: “I would have died if nothing was done as there would have been a lack of oxygenated blood in my body. I was ‘dusky’ coloured because my circulation system was slowly shutting down. “
There were two life-saving stages to George’s treatment: “When I arrived I had a balloon septostomy (which increases blood to the aorta) by Dr Ian Sullivan. Mr Martin Elliot carried out the main operation – I am eternally grateful to him and owe him my life. At some point, I would like to meet Mr Elliot – I have never met him, but maybe in the future!”
Obviously, George doesn’t remember being at the hospital at such a young age: “My earliest memory of the hospital was in 2005 when I came to have some tests. I can’t remember anything about the big operation and by all accounts I wouldn’t want to! When I was young I only understood the basics, such as that I had had a major operation on my heart when I was young.”
George still has regular check-ups, whether at Great Ormond Street Hospital or at Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, close to where he lives: “I am very lucky – a doctor comes to the hospital in Norwich once a month so that is where I am normally seen. I’ve had many tests at Great Ormond Street Hospital, including ECHOs, ECGs, MRIs and exercise tests, where I had to use lots of equipment like a professional athlete! I also remember being told that my fitness was 98% normal compared to someone who had not had major heart surgery. I thought that was amazing!”
He doesn’t mind having to come back to visit the hospital: “I love coming to Great Ormond Street Hospital. Seeing first hand the work that is done to save other children’s lives – children who are seriously ill like I was – means a lot to me. The hospital is important to me – it saved my life and I am eternally grateful. I can never thank the marvellous surgeons, doctors and nurses enough.”
George now tries to do his bit to give back to the charity and hospital. “I do a lot of fundraising for Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity as it is a cause very close to me. I have raised over £850 through a non-school uniform day. I am also running to be a councillor for the Foundation Trust. I would like to be as involved as possible to help other people and improve the hospital. I find it truly humbling the work that is done there everyday. Great Ormond Street Hospital is really, truly amazing!”