FAMILY planning helped to save the life of nurse Sarah Denholme-Parker who had a dangerous heart defect picked up during a routine check.
As a 17-year-old, Sarah from Abbeymead visited her clinic and was advised to come off the pill as nurses found she had high blood pressure.
She later fell pregnant and doctors then discovered a serious heart condition that could threaten her life. If untreated, Sarah could have become a victim of teenage sudden death from cardiac failure.
Doctors told her unless she had open heart surgery, she could die in her twenties. But the risk to her unborn child created a rare situation where it was too dangerous to operate.
Sarah, a sister in A&E at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital, said: “In my teens, I was getting quite short of breath and had leg cramps. They were checking my blood pressure and it was high so they took me off the pill. If I had not done all that, I probably would have died.
“I’m sure I would have been a sudden cardiac death victim.
“My heart operation was due that summer, so I wrote to my surgeon and told him I would have to delay it. It turned out to be a life-threatening pregnancy for my son as well as me. I had to give birth in Bristol with heart surgeons on standby. My aorta had narrowed, it was like a kink in a hosepipe so it was in danger of rupturing or not delivering enough blood supply to the baby, starving him of oxygen. The doctors said they had not seen a case like it before. I feel incredibly fortunate. My mum was exposed to German measles when she was pregnant and we think that is what caused it. It is very important for young people to get checked out. I see so many tragedies in my working life, it is devastating for families.”
Sarah gave birth surrounded by doctors and specialists in case anything went wrong. Thankfully both mum and baby Tom, now 19, survived and Sarah had her heart op just a few months later.
Now 37, she still needs a further operation in her 40s to repair a heart valve, but has gone on to have two more healthy children with her husband John. Olivia is 10 and Grace is four.