A woman, who 37 years ago was among the few people in the UK to undergo open heart surgery whilst pregnant with twins, has returned to Royal Papworth for further surgery under the same consultant.
Annie (68) from Badingham in Suffolk, was under the care of Mr Wells at the old Papworth Hospital in 1986 when she had her mitral valve repaired during her second trimester, in what was a procedure with significant risk to the pregnancy. However, the risk to both mother and babies was also very high in the state of heart failure that existed for her.
The mitral valve is a small flap in the heart that stops blood flowing the wrong way. Problems with it can affect how blood flows around the body.
The operation was a success and the twins were born later that year in a normal birth.
Annie recently returned to Royal Papworth, 37 years on, to have her mitral valve replaced, once again by Mr Wells.
Annie said, “Back in 1986 I’d just found out I was expecting twins. After routine tests I was referred to Papworth after the discovery of the severity of my heart valve problem. It came as a shock.
“I was in for four weeks before the operation, whilst decisions were made about what to do and when to do it, with the babies’ health in mind. It was a very stressful time, particularly for my husband Martin and my oldest son Tom who was just three at the time. However the care I had was incredible and Mr Wells was so lovely and positive all the time.”
After successful surgery to repair her mitral valve in the March, Annie returned home and the twins Lizzie and Joe were born in the July. They have gone on to lead healthy lives and both now have two children of their own.
Annie and Martin with twins Lizzie and Joe, born months after Annie’s successful open heart surgery in 1986
Annie returned to Royal Papworth 17-years ago as the valve had begun to narrow again and a mitral valve balloon dilation (also known as a balloon valvulotomy) was done to widen the valve. In 2022 during a routine check-up, an echocardiogram suggested that the valve would have to be replaced.
Rheumatic valve disease is a slowly progressing process causing thickening of the valve and restriction of its movements many years after its initial onset.
Annie continued, “I couldn’t believe Mr Wells was still here and it was lovely to know it was going to be him again. I was so pleased and wouldn’t have wanted anyone else.
“I have good memories of the old hospital site, including walks around the duckpond and although there are differences in treatment all these years on, in many ways it’s a very similar experience at the new hospital.
“One thing that’s really struck me has been the calmness of everyone. The atmosphere is very relaxed and calm. The staff have been really good and overall the level of care is just superb.”
Annie and Martin, with Royal Papworth Hospital staff during her most recent visit
Mr Frank Wells is Consultant Cardiothoracic Surgeon at Royal Papworth Hospital:
“I remember so well my first meeting with Annie and the difficult decision of what to do for her for the best for her unborn twins and herself. Surgery in this setting was rarely performed and fraught with potential problems. However, allowing the pregnancy to continue with the worsening heart failure that Annie was experiencing was not an option.
“Annie was very brave and made the decision with me with great courage to proceed. The result was excellent, and the longevity of the original valve pays homage to that. Subsequently I have carried out several operations on pregnant women at Royal Papworth and all of the results have been good.
“This of course would not be possible without the enormous skill of our perfusion department in running the heart-lung machine to maintain satisfactory perfusion of mother and babies. We are so fortunate to have such wonderful people working with us to bring this about. Cardiac surgery is a real team effort and that is something that Royal Papworth has always excelled at.
“It was an absolute delight to see Annie again after all these years and to help her again. This time it was necessary to replace the valve and this should last for many, many years keeping Annie in good health for her to be able to enjoy her grandchildren actively.”
Annie’s twins both now have two children each themselves. Her successful recent surgery at Royal Papworth will allow her to enjoy her grandchildren actively
Eldest sibling Tom was just three when his brother and sister were born