Last Christmas Day, little Summer Carss fell ill with what seemed to be a chest infection – but when she was later taken to hospital, doctors found her heart was failing.
Today, the two-year-old is getting ready to celebrate her ‘first proper Christmas’ with her overjoyed family – after being gifted a new heart.
Summer was born with a condition affecting the left side of her heart, and her parents Paul and Julie were told she would need a life-saving transplant operation at the end of January.
She spent the whole of the spring and summer in Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital, and her family, who live in Farne Road, Shilbottle, endured an agonising seven-month wait for a donor to become available.
Summer had to be fitted with a Berlin Heart, a device which artificially pumps blood round the body.
“We were waiting longer than everyone – the average is four months, and of course the longer she was on the Berlin Heart, the more complications there were,” said mum Julie, 29, who spent months living at the hospital along with Paul, 35.
“We were told that we were top of the list and that really hit us hard, but we thought that day was never going to come.”
They finally received the call saying a donor had been found in September, and Summer had the five-hour operation the same day.
“The day went so quickly and it just went so smoothly,” Julie said. “They were amazed how quickly she took to the heart.
“Even the surgeon was amazed how strong the heart was.”
Summer was well enough to return home in October, and celebrated her second birthday there last month.
But her immune system was still weak and only Paul, Julie and her grandparents were allowed to see her in case she picked up an infection.
And the family survived another scare when a routine scan showed Summer’s body was at risk of rejecting the vital organ.
“They prepare you at the hospital for the signs of rejection.
“We had to go the clinic every morning and she was fine, she was laughing and joking,” said Julie.
“We were in shock, she was so well. If we had seen any signs or one of the symptoms, but there were no symptoms whatsoever.”
Since then, following treatment with anti-rejection drugs, Summer has gone from strength to strength.
And last week she was able to see the rest of the family, including her young cousins, for the first time.
“Our family has been brilliant. There were only four family members who could actually see her, but on her birthday all the family were outside looking through the window,” said Julie.
“She saw her cousins for the first time on Monday and she was so excited to see other children, because she had been kept away from them for so long.
“We didn’t think we would get home for Christmas. In January, we didn’t think she would make it to the end of the year.
“It has been a difficult year, but we have come through it.”
Summer is now starting to talk, despite having a tube in her throat to help her breathe.
Dad Paul said: “She’s mischievous at times, but that’s what we want. She’s just like a normal two-year-old. We just can’t keep her still, she’s crawling all over the place.
“She has been outstanding. We couldn’t have gone through what she has been through.”
He paid tribute to medics at the Freeman – whose children’s heart unit could be under threat again after a review was announced into a decision to spare it from closure.
“We cannot thank the hospital staff enough, the support team there has been fantastic,” he said.
Summer will have to have regular checks on her new heart for some time, but the family can enjoy this Christmas together at last.
Paul said: “We’re having a quiet family time at home.
“We are just letting her get on gradually, we’re going to get through Christmas and then she can start a normal life in the new year.”