I was born in 1954 with Tetralogy of Fallot (ToF) – a type of congenital heart disease. From birth I was a classic "Blue Baby"- I was slow to develop, constantly breathless, and I was unable to walk more than about 10 steps without resorting to crouching down to catch breath. At the age of 5, with no natural improvement in my condition, my mother was faced with an agonising decision; I had to undergo ground-breaking open-heart surgery, with only a 50/50 chance of success, or she could watch me gradually deteriorate and ultimately die.

So in 1959, I had a valvectomy. In those days there were no heart/lung bypass machines. Instead, I was sedated and placed in an ice bath for several hours, to bring down my temperature and slow my heart rate, in preparation for surgery. The surgeon had to be quick and had to be sure, because from the time the scalpel opened up the still beating heart he had just 7 minutes to get the job done before the chance of irreparable brain damage due to oxygen deprivation.

Thankfully, I survived but hospitals were very different in those days and as an infant in hospital it was traumatising. I distinctly remember my mother visiting twice a day and me then clinging to the bars of the children's ward window, crying for her not to leave me.

After six weeks in hospital I was allowed to go home. For the first time in my life I could walk longer distances, maybe up to 10 minutes at a time, and even began to run. I was even allowed to start school but only on the strict understanding that I wasn't to exhaust myself.

Life proceeded fairly normally with regular annual check-ups at the London Chest Hospital, until the age of 15 when I was told by my mother that I would be going back to hospital for stage two of the repair procedure for my heart. Technology had improved but the old hospital was still unable to cope with the needs of an adolescent and I was placed in the Male Surgical ward with men typically 3 or 4 times my age. I matured very quickly in that environment but was heartbroken when a strong friendship I had developed with one particular "elderly" patient – he was probably only in his early 50s – ended abruptly, when he suddenly died of complications, following surgery for lung cancer.

I thought that would be the last of my surgeries for my heart condition but time was to prove me wrong…

Read part 2 of Gary's story now - click here