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Mother and Daughter Perspectives on the Heart

Mother and Daughter Perspectives on the Heart

One heart condition, two sides of the story. Wendy Sterry and her daughter, GUCH patient Nicola, share their experiences of a heart condition.


And so began our journey.

Our daughter, Nicola was born in 1981, three weeks early and slightly jaundiced, so we had no worries about a follow up appointment with the consultant a few weeks later. However this news was so unexpected, I think it took a long time to sink in. She seemed normal, if a little small, but we had no concerns.

We were referred to Killingbeck Hospital in Leeds, where her condition, Tetralogy of Fallots was monitored for the next few years. But an operation was inevitable as her symptoms would have deteriorated as she grew older.

So at the age of nearly five, having only spent a few weeks at school, she was operated on by Duncan Walker. At that time, he only performed about 25 of these procedures a year. It wasn't until we spent time at the hospital that I realised there were so many families worse off than us, tiny babies having emergency surgery, some very sadly who did not survive.

Nicola recovered well and continued through her school years with no problems. She reached her late teens and after many checkups, it seemed increasingly likely that another operation would be required, particularly as surgery had advanced so much in the intervening years.

The prospect of this did not stop her having a gap year when she learnt to snowboard in Canada (whilst supposedly working in a cafe), going to university and then completing a Masters degree. The second operation was finally scheduled in 2004, with corrective surgery including the replacement of the pulmonary valve. After an agonising 9 hour wait for the family, the surgery was a success.

Again she recovered well and continued with her career in youth theatre She had the opportunity to work in South Africa, Italy and Japan. Unfortunately a frightening tachycardia attack just before she came back for Christmas meant more tests and the shock news that another operation was needed to repair the tricuspid valve and have an ICD fitted. She was unable to return to Japan and her third operation took place at the Heart Hospital in 2008.

As soon as she was well enough, she looked for voluntary and paid work and her persistent positive attitude paid off when she was appointed Director of a Youth Theatre in London.

She has never let her illnesses stop her from achieving her ambitions, for which I have great admiration. Occasionally if one of her friends grumbles about a minor ailment, she will say that they have no idea about coping with bad health. She wears her scar with pride and realises the importance of keeping fit. She likes challenges and last May completed the half marathon Moon Walk round London. The cardiac liaison nurses at the Heart Hospital have been brilliant in their support. I still go with her to the checkups but now I am only allowed to wait outside holding coats and bags, and that is how it should be, as she takes responsibility for her own health.

Wendy Sterry, Nicola's mother


I don't remember ever first realising I had a heart condition - it's just always been there. As a Tetralogy of Fallot patient I had my first operation at the age of four.

The only two clear memories I have of this time are having the same pyjamas as the boy in the bed next to me and getting told off by one of the nurses for putting all the teddy bears in the Wendy house!

My memories of my second operation are a bit less fun. After having a checkup every two years throughout my childhood and teenage years, I found that towards the end of my time at university, tiredness was creeping in. It was decided that I needed to have a further operation and I had valve replacement surgery at Leeds Hospital 2004.

I never let my heart condition hold me back and developed a love for travelling at an early age. I learnt to snowboard during my gap year in Canada at the age of 18. I have also lived and worked in South Africa, Italy, Japan and America.

In 2007, whilst working in Tokyo, I collapsed. After returning home for a holiday at Christmas I had some tests. These showed that my heart had been going into ventricular tachycardia (very fast rhythm), and I needed surgery within a month (I ended up spending most of my waiting time in hospital). This was a tough time and my recovery took longer than expected. I was much more nervous and anxious post-surgery about my heart than I had been previously and I was worried about my brand spanking new ICD going off and making me scream in a quiet place! After six months I did have a shock from my ICD. It turned out to be surreal but not the end of the world; this was a turning point to get on with my life. I now feel much more confident with my defibrillator than I would if I didn't have it.

My relationship with my heart is now back to its old positive ways. I have a really busy job running a thriving Youth Theatre in Putney - a job which I love!

I direct shows and run drama classes with 260 young people every week!

My heart condition has given me the ability to make the most of my life. I can never thank enough those who have helped me through these times; my family, friends and the nurses at the Heart Hospital. I try not to get caught up in the small things and just cherish what I have. In some ways I feel lucky that it has given me ability to be grateful and thankful for everything and I just wouldn't be the same person if I wasn't covered in scars!

Nicola Sterry

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