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Black Country mum prepares to mark two years since toddler’s life-saving heart surgery

A Black Country mum is preparing to mark two years since her toddler had life-saving heart surgery when he was just a few weeks old.

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Jamie Gadd as a baby

Jamie Gadd, who lives with mum Della and dad Martin in Rowley Regis, was diagnosed with a congenital heart condition soon after he was born on New Year’s Day, 2022.

After he “turned grey” and went into respiratory arrest aged just nine weeks, surgeons found Jamie’s mitral valve hadn’t developed properly.

They tried to repair it during a mammoth six hour surgery session but in the end made the decision to replace it with a mechanical valve.

Della and Martin with their son Jamie Gadd

Two years on and mum Della, who knows Jamie may still face at least two similar valve replacements in his lifetime, is fundraising for the British Heart Foundation (BHF) as a way to pay back and help prevent other families going through the same trauma.

Della, 42, who also has two grown-up children from a previous relationship, said she had had a normal pregnancy with Jamie.

“Nothing was picked up with his heart at all,” she said.

“But when he was born he had a cleft palate and they also diagnosed him with a mild form of Pierre Robin sequence”.

Pierre Robin is a rare congenital birth defect characterized by an underdeveloped jaw.

Della said they had been told there was no link between this and Jamie’s heart issues.

Jamie Gadd

Shortly after his birth, Jamie was sent for tests at the Birmingham Children’s Hospital because his oxygen levels were dropping when he went to sleep.

According to Della, he also stopped feeding and his heart rate was high but it wasn’t until a few days later that they realised there was a real problem.

“He went in on the Monday and then on the Saturday he went into respiratory arrest,” she said.

“The doctors came up from intensive care and ordered scans straight away because he had also turned grey.

“Then we got taken into a little room and were told that his mitral valve hadn’t developed properly so it was pumping his blood back into his lungs rather that through his heart”.

Della said the doctor drew a picture of Jamie’s heart to illustrate that its left-hand side was over double the size of the right side.

Jamie Gadd

They were told Jamie would not survive if surgeons didn’t operate straight away.

After the first procedure when the doctors couldn’t fix Jamie’s valve, he was rescheduled for open-heart surgery to replace the valve with a mechanical one.

This took place on March 9, 2022.

“We’re coming up to two years since then and we’ve decided to do something every year on the day to mark the occasion,” said Della.

“Last year we went to a safari park. We don’t know what it will be this year yet but it’s about appreciating that he’s here with us, marking the day."

Since the operation, Jamie has been on the blood-thinning drug Warfarin, which Della monitors at home.

Otherwise, she said he was doing really well.

“His cardiac consultant is blown away by him and said he doesn’t look like he belongs in the department because he’s so chunky, pink and full of energy,” she said.

Since the surgery, Della said she had been the “strong one” for husband Martin as Jamie was his first child. But, she said, the emotions hit her later on.

“It initially impacted my husband quite hard so I was looking after him and trying to keep a level head,” she said.

“But it hit me later on – when I went back to work I started having panic attacks and was getting really bad heart palpitations.

“Jamie’s doing really well, but I know he will have to have the valve replaced again another couple of times, probably when he is about 10 and again when he is 20 and that’s what I am not coping with. Knowing we have to go through it all again”.

To help her son, Della said she had made him a “heart book” about what happened when he had his original valve replacement.

She hopes this will make it easier when the time comes for the next operation.

In the meantime, she is also helping herself cope with the anxiety by organised fundraising for the BHF through her work as a staffing officer for SIPS education.

“I work in the head office and have shared a bit about Jamie’s story with them so thought it would be nice to do some fundraising,” she said.

“We’re having a fancy dress day, a raffle, a cake sale – it’s really nice as everyone is fully on board and has got behind it.

“It’s also great to share Jamie’s story because when we started out we felt like we were the only people going through this in the world.

“It’s nice to know you are not alone”.

To support Della visit