TOMORROW is D-Day for the future of children’s heart surgery in Southampton.
Health bosses make their decision on whether the axe will fall on Southampton General Hospital’s world-class unit, after 250,000 people joined the Daily Echo’s fight to keep it.
More than a year after this newspaper launched its Have a Heart campaign, the all-important decision will be made tomorrow afternoon.
In a final plea to those who hold the fate of the unit in their hands, one teenager is begging the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts (JCPCT) to save the unit that saved her life twice.
Thanks to the world-class care Steph Gill received at Southampton, she will be able to get all glammed up to attend her school prom – just weeks after undergoing open heart surgery.
The 16-year-old says that if she’d undergone vital surgery anywhere else it would not have been safe for her to return in time for the big event to mark the end of her schooldays.
This is just one of the countless reasons why more than 250,000 people across the south and beyond signed a petition to save the top quality unit.
Despite being ranked the second best in the country, the paediatric heart unit was given just a 25 per cent chance of survival as health chiefs look to cut the UK’s 11 centres down to six or seven.
If Southampton closes, families would be forced to get life-saving treatment in London or Bristol, at units which experts say fell below the “exemplary”
standards that the city boasts.
Steph, from Fareham, first had open heart surgery in Southampton when she was 22 months old after doctors discovered her artery in her heart was not opening as it should, restricting the blood going to her body.
Then in December last year, staff found that a valve in her heart was leaking and she needed a second major operation to fix that, just weeks before her school prom.
But thanks to the expert care she received at the unit and its location close to home, she will be able to escape the hospital ward for three hours so that she can go to the ball.
Steph, who faces a further six weeks in hospital, said: “I would appeal to those making the decision not to close the unit here in Southampton because patients my age are not isolated from their lives on the outside world, because my friends can visit and I can still go to my prom.
“If I had been in London or Bristol it would not have been safe for me to go and I would have missed out on one of the biggest days of my life.
“The unit here has saved my life twice. When I needed my second operation I was not scared at all because I had grown up with the staff on the unit and I knew I was in the safest of hands. To see it go would be devastating.”
In June last year, the Daily Echo, joined by families, doctors and MPs, headed to Downing Street to hand in the 250,000 signatures collected on the Have a Heart petition to show the Prime Minister how important it is to save the unit.
Steph’s mum Chris said: “This unit is working well and the results speak for themselves. The children, as well as the parents, across the south will suffer if this unit is no longer there for them.”