HE’S seven-years-old but Nathan Gowdy would not be alive today if it weren’t for the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children’s Cardiology Unit, insists his mum Mary who is campaigning against its closure.
Mary Gowdy fears the closure of the unit could mean other children who need emergency heart surgery could be at risk if they are forced to travel hundreds of miles for treatment.
Little Nathan was born in April 2005 and, at just a week old, he was rushed from Craigavon Hospital for a life-saving emergency operation at the Children’s Cardiology Unit.
“This undoubtedly saved his life,” said Mary.
Health Minister Edwin Poots revealed he has been discussing the provision of child heart surgery on an all-Ireland basis with his Dublin counterpart, James Reilly.
More than 50,000 people have signed a petition calling for the retention of the unit
Mr Poots told the assembly he could not ignore the views of eminent health professionals who had concluded the service was not sustainable and he believes a cross-border network for child heart surgery would be advantageous for both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
The consultation period runs until December.
It could mean children with serious heart problems may be forced to travel hundreds of miles to the UK.
“It is unthinkable that anyone could put our children at risk when we have a first class service on our doorstep with a first class cardiac team,” said Mary.
“The stress alone on parents at this difficult time to leave their own country and travel to the UK leaving siblings behind, plus the financial part of it as some of these children spend weeks in hospital before they can return,” said the young mum.
“My son was born on April 1, 2005 with a normal delivery in Craigavon hospital. Everything was fine. The day we were being discharged a doctor came round to listen to Nathan’s chest and thought there could be a slight murmur so asked could they take him to neo-natal for a 24 hour check.
“Things began to deteriorate very quickly. Nathan was resuscitated and decisions were made to move him to the Royal. We were told to travel by car as nurses assisted Nathan and doctors followed behind.
“When we reached the Royal, Nathan was taken to Clark clinic where we met consultants Dr Casey and Dr Craig who worked with Nathan for a few hours,” she said.
“They explained that Nathan had coartation of the aorta, his main artery to the heart was narrowed and he also had a large Ventricular septal defect (VSD). His heart was so erratic he had to be put on a ventilator and surgeon Dr Gladstone was phoned to perform emergency surgery.
“Nathan was baptised and within hours he was going through a nine hour surgery. It was any parent’s nightmare. We knew things could go either way - complete devastation.
“After nine long hours Dr Gladstone came to see us surgery went well the next twenty four hours was crucial we were at his bedside at intensive care for the next five days. He was then moved to Clark Clinic The care we received in intensive care and Clark Clinic was fantastic.
“If children’s surgery wasn’t in Belfast Nathan wouldn’t have made it to the UK hospitals. Like many more emergency cases it is essential that we protect and enhance our high quality local services in Belfast.
“Nathan went on to have another two open heart surgeries which were both done in Belfast.”
Nathan is a pupil at St Mary’s Primary School in Derrymore. His mum said he is likely to need more surgery.
“Our children deserve better than this. We will not let them take any risk with their lives,” she said.
“We have public meetings in different regions at the minute we would ask all our local MLAs and councillors to represent us at Lisburn Lagan Valley Island on Tuesday, October 9 at 7pm.”
Mary is the group organiser for the Lurgan area and they meet once a month in the Jethro Centre.
Anyone who has a child with congenital heart disease and would like to come along for a little support or chat please contact Mary on 0776 231 7335.