Beautiful Humans of the NHS

I’d like to start by saying this story may be initially difficult to read for some of you, but I promise the ending is extremely positive.

My story starts on a rainy day in West London in May 1983. The world was alive with promise, electronic music, new technologies and the Cold War was hotter than ever. Unbeknown to them my parents were about to start their own battle; their child was going to be born with heart disease. They soon realised something was different when I wouldn’t feed properly, and I seemed a little blue around the lips. Their joy turned to panic and confusion–were they to blame? What’s happening? An ambulance whizzed me to Great Ormond Street Hospital, and they found that I had a series of challenges ahead. To begin with they found I had a problem with my oesophagus (tracheal oesophageal fistula), so instead of feeding normally my mother’s milk was filling my lungs, this was obviously very distressing for her. Then came the bombshell: “We think your son has a little problem with his heart.” My mum once told me that instead of crying she just laughed in disbelief. So many questions; this was something she had never prepared for.

The next morning the battle began. It was confirmed: “He has got congenital heart disease, Tetralogy of Fallot to be exact.”

Soon my condition deteriorated, and the surgeons did their absolute best to keep me alive despite my body being so small that any operation was a huge risk. They did it. They really did it. They saved my life. On more than one occasion they brought me back from the brink. Stents and valves and valves and stents, a stitch here, a collapsed lung there and problems came and went but those doctors, nurses, surgeons, porters, tea ladies, physicians, physios and anaesthetists carried me and my family through it, every time. How incredible is that?

You see, those beautiful humans of the NHS, they never gave up on me; they never gave up giving my parents hope, and their hard work and compassion gave me the tools to fight another day. Yes, it was tough–but it was never impossible.

I remember being five and a bit and coming home from pulmonary valve replacement to the warmest of welcomes. I remember the cakes my cousin made to welcome me back. I remember the doctors hugging me goodbye. I remember the endless scans. I remember the smile of a lady I think was called Sally and falling asleep in the TV room. I remember dragging that ridiculous machine around. I don’t remember the pain.

That valve lasted me 30 years. 30 amazing years. I recently had a new porcine pulmonary valve and five months on I’m pushing the boundaries again.

My family were so worried I wouldn’t have a normal life. I was constantly told growing up, “Don’t do this,” or, “Be careful, your heart is poorly”. Do you think that slowed me down? If anything, it gave me more resilience, energy and appreciation for living life to the full, pushing boundaries and living in the moment.

Heart disease doesn’t define me.

I was told I couldn’t sing properly; four years later I performed at the Royal Albert Hall in front of the Queen and over the years have been involved in various musical projects. I was told not to stray too far away in case I got ill, so obviously I went to New Zealand. I was told I’d be limited with what sports I could do, so I did as many as I could! Football, karate, surfing, kayaking, running, rock climbing, sprinting for the bus…!

For parents worried that their little one won’t have a future, I’m here to say they can have the most wonderful existence; they can plan for the future, and you are not alone. I try not to think along the lines of saying, “I can’t”; instead I think, “I can’t, yet”.
I’m now married with happy and healthy children of my own and my days are filled with things I love doing.

The first kiss at our wedding; that time I sailed around New Zealand; my relationships with the people I love; the birth of my children and every single time I kiss them good night; that moment I sit every summer morning before my family wakes and just listen to the dawn chorus, and the moment it’s ruined by, “Daddy, can you wipe my bum!”

I owe every single one of those moments to the beautiful people of the NHS. I wish I could thank every single one of you again.

My parents fought my corner and now it’s me holding their hand, putting my arms around them and supporting them as they face challenges.

Your child can become a doctor, an Olympian, a politician, a carpenter, a baker, an artist, a lawyer, a gardener or even a cardiologist! They are already battle-hardened and excited to see what’s out there, just like the rest of us–and you’ll be surprised by what they can achieve.

I mean that from the bottom of my heart.

I’ll leave you with the first thing I said to the world after my last surgery:

“Heart Surgery was a full success! I Made it through to the other side. I owe the NHS my life. Every single person I’ve encountered has been amazing! My treatment has been amazing. Feeling so blessed to wake up and see my Wife’s face. Life is so precious, use it wisely! love to all x”

Lee Dobson