HEART swap tot Charleigh Thomson, the winner of the Citizen’s Bravery Award, is this week home from hospital – exactly 12 months after doctors predicted she would die.
The curly-haired two-year-old celebrated the occasion by taking her first ever steps and cheerily waving goodbye to staff at Great Ormond Street, where she has lived for the past year.
Her grandmother Yvonne Forbes said: “It’s exactly nine weeks since she had the heart transplant and she looks amazing.
“She has put on weight, her cheeks are rosy and her lips are pink instead of blue. It’s a wonderful sight.”
This time last year Charleigh was admitted to Great Ormond Street for an operation to fix the final one of three heart defects doctors had detected at birth.
But, though the repair surgery went well, irreversible complications set in with her coronary artery.
“Charleigh’s heart was failing fast and there was nothing doctors could do. She was fighting for her life and we were warned she might not survive until Christmas,” said Yvonne.
The only hope was a heart transplant, but the family knew a perfect donor match could take months or years to find.
Last December doctors took a gamble and connected Charleigh to an £100,000 artificial Berlin heart, a machine that pumped the blood round her body externally via two metres of tubing.
Despite her weak state she survived the surgery and continued to smile – even capturing the heart of Olympic medallist Greg Rutherford who visited her in hospital,
Finally, after 255 days connected to the Berlin heart, a donor match was found and transplanted into Charleigh’s tiny chest during a ten- hour operation.
The following month, while Charleigh was still in intensive care, her mum Christina and gran Yvonne took time off from their mammoth bedside vigil to be guests of honour at the Citizen’s Pride in Milton Keynes awards. Here they accepted the prestigious Bravery Award on Charleigh’s behalf.
On Tuesday the final part of the dream came true when Charleigh was carried through the door of her Fishermead home.
“It’s so long since she’s been here that she doesn’t remember much of the house. But she’s really excited to be back,” said Yvonne.
“We are over the moon to have her home. She must go back for hospital checks but there’s no reason she can’t lead a normal life now. We feel all our prayers have been answered.