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80 years on with a heart still going strong

My name is Jean Lewis, I was born in 1931 weighing 10.5 lbs, looking the picture of health.

I remember in my early years that I could not keep up with the others at school. I had Rheumatic Fever when I was eight years old and spent six weeks in hospital. When I was discharged, my mum was told I had a tired heart.

When I was 12 years of age I went swimming with the school and the teacher had to fetch me out of the water because I was so blue. My mum took me to the GP who asked me to run on the spot. He said I had a murmur but it was nothing to worry about.

When I was expecting my first child at 21, my GP sent me to see a heart specialist who confirmed I had a murmur and that if I was at all worried to go back to see him. During all this time I looked so well.

Over the next few years I used to get palpitations, which the GP said was nerves. I tried to ignore them and had a second child four years later, coping very well.

I used to go dancing, which I loved, and also went out to work, but always, at the back of my mind, I felt something was wrong.

When I reached the menopause I had to have a maxillary sinus operation and, while the doctor questioned my heart, it still only came through as a murmur. However, in 1988 whilst my husband and I took our granddaughter to St Ives in Cornwall, I came over all faint and felt really awful. I went to see my GP on my return from holiday and he sent me to see a heart specialist again.

Luckily for me, whilst I was at my hospital appointment, Dr Somerville (now Professor), from the Brompton Hospital was calling in at my local hospital and my consultant asked her to see me. She asked me questions and told me I had a hole in my heart and that she wanted to see me at the Brompton Hospital. The echo revealed that I had a congenitally corrected transposition of the ventricles, a hole (ASD), and Mitral Stenosis amongst other things. Dr Somerville told me: "You are unique."

I went to the National Heart Hospital for more tests, and then I was moved to the Brompton in London where I was seen every six months thereafter. I had a defibrillator fitted in 2004 and in 2007 under open heart surgery, I had another fitted, which works as both a pacemaker and defibrillator. It was in 2009 that I had to make a decision about having the hole in my heart closed.

This was a big decision and I will always be grateful to members of The Somerville Foundation in helping me decide. It was during a weekend to Devon organised by The SF that I had the chance to speak to other members who had had the operation and they all said: "Go for it." I did and the quality of my life has been so much better since.

I am now 80 years old and looking forward to my next weekend away with The SF.

I am eternally grateful to doctors Mullen and Till at Brompton Hospital. Being a member of The SF has been an enormous support to my husband and me over the years. There is always someone to talk to and members of The SF can support and encourage each other with health issues that we all have to overcome.

I have been lucky in that, despite of my condition I have been able to lead the most fulfilling life, enjoying my family and friends and so many visits and holidays and happy times.
Jean Lewis

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