Mum’s plea to help save unit that gave Megan gift of life

Six-year-old Megan McGarvey with her older sister Maya, eight.
Six-year-old Megan McGarvey with her older sister Maya, eight.

A MOTHER-OF-THREE has made a heartfelt plea for Northumberland residents to help prevent the closure of the children’s heart unit that saved her daughter’s life.

Rachel and Kevin McGarvey, from Amble, have been taking their six-year-old daughter Megan to the specialist unit at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital her whole life, including for the vital procedure to repair a large hole in her heart in March 2005 after she was rushed to hospital by air ambulance.

Megan recovering from her second heart surgery.

Megan recovering from her second heart surgery.

Megan was born without a right lung and her heart is located on the right-side of her chest, which complicates any surgery.

Rachel said: “It was very much a case of kill her or cure her. She would have died without surgery and that was a horrible day sitting around waiting. It’s quite a common operation but with Megan and her physiology it’s a little bit more difficult.

“So she’s a very special case – she’s my very special case.”

Now a public consultation on proposals to reduce the number of these specialist units nationwide from 11 to as few as six ends tomorrow, less than a month before Megan returns to the Freeman for another operation.

Under the plans, which were developed amid concerns that expertise was spread too thinly, if the Freeman unit shut, children in Northumberland would have to travel to Leeds for heart surgery.

Megan, who has two sisters, Maya, eight, and two-year-old Olivia, first went to the Freeman when she was five or six days old after she started turning blue. This led to her undergoing her first heart operation, for a narrowing of the aorta, and a stay in the hospital over Christmas 2004.

After her second successful operation in 2005, Megan was better but aged two she was diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), where the heart beats very rapidly, often between 200 and 300 beats per minute, leading to shortness of breath and pain.

Rachel said: “The episodes kept getting more and more, and worse and worse.

“They aren’t life-threatening but they are very unpleasant for her. She’s on medication but she keeps outgrowing it.”

Megan went back to the Freeman in October last year for another operation known as radio frequency ablation in which electric catheters are inserted through the arteries to try to find the right pathway in order to stop the SVT.

Following this operation Megan was also diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome – an unusual, and potentially dangerous if untreated, heart rhythm.

The operation was unsuccessful in stopping the SVT and Megan will return for another ‘magic sleep’, as she calls it, on July 28.

“The surgery didn’t get it fixed but I have got to be hopeful that they will get it sorted,” said Rachel.

“Megan is taking a lot of medication and beta blockers so she doesn’t have much stamina at the moment.

“She will be absolutely fine for a couple of months and then she outgrows her medication or has a cycle of these episodes.

“The Freeman is of massive imporance to us and what’s most important is getting people involved in keeping it open.

“It’s fantastic. The priority has to be the sick child but they understand and care about the family.

“I remember after her second operation, the nurse saying ‘you look tired, go home and get some sleep, we are here’, and you trust them.

“Dr Kirk, the consultant, was brilliant. He used to joke and say all his grey hair was down to Megan. It’s a complete family atmosphere down there.”

To register support for the Freeman unit, you can text HEART to 85001 free of charge, then reply that you strongly support options A and B.

“You don’t want to see any of these places go and I know I’m biased but it’s got to be the Freeman for me,” added Rachel.