The Royal Brompton is like a family. It's not only one of the best hospitals in the world in my eyes, but it is the hospital that I’ve grown up with. They’ve saved my life and helped me lead the life I love today. I know it’s a cliché, but this hospital is so close to my heart.  

Growing up with a different heart

I was born blue in 1984 due to complications with my mum’s pregnancy and this is where my heart story starts. Blood was not flowing properly around my body. Out of four valves, three of them were leaking and I had a hole in my heart, so I had my fist major surgery at just six weeks to fix them. 

As my heart grew it needed working on throughout my childhood. I was in and out of hospital all the time, but I didn’t know any different, it was like going to school, just something I did. I remember clearly how the staff made it fun for me. I don’t know if they do that now, but we had Ted the bear. Ted had a zip down his chest, which reflected scars the children had on ward. Made us kids feel like we were normal, almost like it was cool to have our scars. Ted was a great help to my doctors at check-ups. I was so protective of my chest that I really didn’t like anyone going there, still today I don’t like being touched there. I was happy to have injections and check-ups but try and place a stethoscope on my chest to listen in and the whole ward would know about it! 

At a young age I loved dancing and really wanted to make it as a professional. My consultants said it was ok to dance, but I feel the increased pressure on my heart through training meant my new valves didn’t last quite as long as they should have. At 12 years old I noticed I had started to get very tired again. Before long I was in for surgery again, counting my lucky stars that this would mean my SATs exams would be postponed; exams scared me more than surgery. 

Coming to terms with my heart condition

Over the next few years, I became more aware I was different. I noticed not everyone had a scar, kids at school used to tease me and being who I am, I wanted to push at the boundaries of my disease. I didn’t want it to restrict what I could do, and I wanted as normal a life as possible. Unfortunately, at 19 I pushed too far. 

My left arm went numb, it felt like my heart was jumping out my chest and I was rushed to hospital. Royal Brompton saved my life. It really was the wake-up call I needed to take my heart a whole lot more seriously. I was so lucky.  

When I was 20, I had a balloon put into my aorta. Which somehow felt easier on me, the only thing that hurt was the healing of the scar. I was being far more cautious with my health and so my twenties passed with very few heart problems. I was still trying to find balance between a career I loved and what my heart could handle. 

I was getting to know my body a lot better and noticed I’d been going off my food and getting more tired. My heart telling me something wasn’t right. One day, during a particularly busy day for me I felt my heart beat so strongly it felt like it was jumping out of me. I sat down to recover and when I went to stand up my leg was massively swollen. I’d developed a clot in my leg as a result of my weakened heart, and not too long later, I had a cardiac arrest. The whole left side of my body went hot, and I was rushed into hospital. They gave me the works, everything got repaired and I was in hospital for four months. I lost so much strength in ICU. It was such a difficult time for me, but soon enough I began to slowly recover. 

After my arrest, I was on ward and a guy came up to me “do you mind if I come and have a chat with you... do you remember me?” he said, and I remembered the voice, but I couldn’t place him. It was the paramedic who had brought me in and had reassured me and cared for me in the ambulance. The effort he’d made coming to check in on me really touched me. 

After heart surgery, I’ve found the relief from my symptoms can be so instant. I remember waking up and still being drowsy from the anaesthetic but noticing my heart is working better, there’s a lightness. I would be asleep all the time before the surgery but after it I just felt more awake.  

In Royal Brompton's cath labs

When you have like leaky valves, they need regular check-ups and in 2019 I had to get my pulmonary valve done again. They had new technology and were going to work on my heart through a blood vessel in the cath lab.

It was so quick! I was in on Monday and out by Friday. What’s really great about these procedures is you don’t have a huge scar to take care of once you’re home. It’s far more manageable and less painful.  

Since this surgery I’ve felt amazing, my energy is up, and I don’t get so chilly. I just go in for check-ups these days. I love ECHOs because I can look at everything on the screen, get to see my heart and how its working away inside me. 

There are no words to express how thankful I am for all of the great care and support that I have
received in my 37 years
. Without them I would not be here. I am now in great shape and doing the job I love and that’s all down to this amazing hospital. So every
Christmas I contribute a portion of my hairdressing services towards the hospital to give back and to make sure they can care for others as they’ve done for me.   

We've embarked on a huge appeal to raise £500,000 to provide Royal Brompton with state-of-the-art imaging equipment for the cath lab where Charli had her minimally invasive surgery.  You can help more people like Charli back to the lives they love by donating to our Life in Focus Appeal.