Harry’s birth and treatment in France
By Julian Spurling (Harry’s father)
We first found out about Harry’s heart condition when he was five days old whilst Lulu was still in hospital. He was diagnosed by a paediatrician at the hospital in France where we were living at the time. The paediatrician referred us to a heart specialist in Paris who confirmed that Harry had Fallots Tetralogy.
The news was of course a shock to both of us, but after all the tears an inner strength took over and the need to find out more and get a second opinion was uppermost in our minds. We flew to London and got a second opinion from a leading cardiologist at Guy’s Hospital who confirmed Harry’s diagnosis. It soon became clear that Harry would need to be operated on within eight months. We then had to decide whether we wanted the operation in France or London. As we were living in France at the time and the two elder boys were at school there, we decided to have it done in France and were referred to Professor Vouhe at the Laennec Hospital in Paris.
After the first operation Harry was a different child. He no longer had high temperatures every other day and his colouring changed dramatically from a blue pallor to normal. As a young boy and into his early teens his health has always been good, although sport became increasingly difficult from the age of about 11. He did develop bad ears and has had surgery on both of them; this is linked to the Di George Syndrome which was diagnosed at the age of five. He also had to have seven of his teeth out when he was seven years old, which I think was linked to the constant antibiotics he was on during the early years.
The second operation
Harry has since had his second open heart surgery at the age of 14 at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, where the original repair was tidied up and a left ventricle valve was replaced. This operation was extremely successful and we are all delighted with the results – Harry is even able to enjoy sport again.
Along the way we have always found healthcare professionals both in France and the UK to be very supportive. When he was diagnosed with Di George Syndrome at Addenbrokes Hospital in Cambridge the paediatric cardiologist was very helpful throughout and explained everything really well. Harry now sees him at Great Ormond Street every other year.
The Di George Syndrome encouraged us to move Harry to a special needs school called More House School in Frensham, Surrey which still follows the core curriculum. He does have mild learning difficulties but has done a full suite of GCSEs and is now studying for ASs.
Harry’s condition has never stopped him from having a normal upbringing and he has always found it easy to make friends and enjoys social and sporting activities like any young person. His favourite pastimes are golf, cricket, photography, and music. He is generally quite a home bird and probably enjoys being with his family most of all.
Comparing the experience ‘across borders’
The care and treatment Harry received in France was when he was a baby and we couldn’t fault them. However due to the language barrier for Lulu (Harry’s mother), it has been a lot easier being in the UK and understanding his medical needs the second time around. I would say that the healthcare environment in France is generally of a higher quality, no doubt due to greater investment. For example, the quality of pre admission care and treatment was of a much higher order in France than at Great Ormond Street. But in terms of the operation and aftercare, they were both extremely good.