“I’ve been thinking of climbing Snowdon for a while. Before my operation, I wouldn't even have been able to think about doing it,” Sam told us when we caught up with her. She had just completed a less exhausting, but very successful birthday fundraiser on Facebook raising £150. We wanted to hear more about the care that would inspire her to climb mountains.

“I was born with a heart murmur, but I had no symptoms. I led an ‘ignorance is bliss’ kind of life,” Sam said. However, in 2017, some unusual activity in her heart was picked up during a routine medical when applying for an HGV licence. Sam was sent to be checked out at Basingstoke Hospital.

Test results showed a subaortic stenosis was forming in Sam’s heart. This means that oxygenated blood which was ready to be pumped out around the body was being blocked by a membrane forming over Sam’s aorta, the main blood vessel leaving the heart. Sam was monitored with an annual echocardiogram until her condition made it difficult to manage day to day.

Towards her admission to Royal Brompton in November 2022, Sam’s heart was having to work harder and harder to give her the energy she needed. “I had difficulty breathing,” Sam said. “Even doing simple tasks I experienced light headedness and felt weak. I was absolutely shattered, but I would just get on with it and not make a fuss.”

Sam needed open heart surgery to remove the now tumour like membrane. “It was quite scary. I got admitted at lunchtime. They take you to the ward and then there are visits from everyone, checking your vitals and carrying out Covid-19 tests and MRSA swabs. Later on in the day, my surgeon, Tony De Souza, came to explain the surgery and then what might happen that is not planned. My team were really good. They put me at ease.”

Following the surgery, Sam’s heart became blocked and wouldn’t beat well on its own. Two weeks later, a pacemaker was fitted which allowed Sam to go home and recover. However, “I had a lot of water weight from the operation. This stopped my mobility. My legs were so big I couldn’t bend them.” Said Sam

Despite Sam’s tendency to get on with life despite discomfort, she was admitted to A&E again just after Christmas in the hope that this water weight would be drained away and her discomfort eased. Sam didn’t anticipate receiving the news that this could be a symptom of heart failure. By January 9, Sam was readmitted to Royal Brompton for work on the hole in her heart.

I was in there so long that I built up relationships with all the staff. I can’t single out just one person, they were all incredible. When I was transferred back to Royal Brompton it was just like going home. I remember going out for a little walk around the hospital and I realised I hadn’t ordered my lunch. I saw one of the catering staff and mentioned this. She told me that she’d ordered it for me because she knew what I’d like. I was really touched by that.

With the prospect of another open-heart surgery in her future, Sam was taken for more tests. This time pacemaker wires complicated the navigation of any minimally invasive procedure. Images from her echocardiogram were shown to Dr Rigby who was confident he could mend her heart. “He’s the best in the biz!” said Sam. “I felt I couldn’t go through open heart surgery again.”

It was a team effort to get Sam’s water weight down and health back up for the procedure. Dr Rigby was able to work on fixing Sam’s hole through a tiny tube inserted into a blood vessel, guided in this intricate work by detailed images produced by scanners around Sam’s chest. The procedure was a success and after a few days of recovery Sam was discharged back to the comfort of her own home.

Sam is still in recovery and taking medicine as her heart heals, but she is already noticing improvements to her health.

The breathlessness has improved so much. When I go for walks, I know when I'm expecting to start feeling breathless. I'm waiting for a struggle to come. Being able to breathe easily following two years of not being able to do so has taken a lot of getting used to, but it’s great!

These walks are just the start for Sam. She is planning to climb mountains next year to thank everyone at Royal Brompton Hospital for her care. “Without them I know I wouldn’t be here today. They’re incredible. It's so scary to think that without them and the healthcare that we have, I wouldn’t be here today.

“Before I went into my operation, I wanted to set myself a goal, something to celebrate my second chance at life. I thought climbing Snowden would be a great fundraising challenge to show my gratitude.”

Inspired by Sam to take on a challenge to support the treatment and care of people with heart and lung disease? We have a range of events lined up this summer. Browse our events page to find your perfect challenge.

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