Expectant mum relives heart ordeal

Carol with younger son Toby
Carol with younger son Toby

A MUM has spoken of the life-or-death ordeal she endured while pregnant with her second son.

Carol Cliffe suffered heart failure while she was expecting youngest child Toby.

She had a condition so rare that her doctors had never before carried out specialist surgery on it.

The Seaton Carew mum, then 36 and now 39, suffered from pectus excavatum, which meant her breastbone was digging into her heart.

She said: “Being pregnant puts a strain on your heart anyway because of the increased weight and the increased blood volume but I had this as well.

“It meant my heart was failing to work properly but my first thought was not for myself. It was for my baby.”

Doctors delayed Carol’s labour for as long as possible to avoid problems with a premature delivery.

But thankfully Toby was born healthy, weighing 6lb 5oz, despite arriving three weeks early. He is now a bright and bubbly three-year-old.

Carol also suffered health problems during the birth of her first son Hugo, now four.

She said: “Although my boys made me rather ill, they are worth every minute.”

Despite Toby’s successful birth, Carol’s health battle was not over. She still had the condition which is more closely associated with pensioners because of its debilitating nature.

She said: “It was scary. I was told it could be life limiting. That Christmas, I remember I was really poorly and I was sitting at home with the family thinking it might be the last Christmas we have together.”

Carol was suffering from extreme breathlessness and had to be pushed around in a wheelchair as she could only walk a few yards.

Seriously ill Carol, her husband Paul, 50, and their two children swapped their home in Ballater, near Balmoral, in Scotland, to be nearer family in Hartlepool as her condition deteriorated.

She eventually underwent more than four hours’ surgery at the Freeman Hospital, Newcastle, last July.

Two cardiothoracic surgeons cut away part of her ribs on both sides and the sternum digging into her heart, which re-inflated when the pressure was released.

The surgeons then created a dovetail joint for the sternum to be placed back inside her chest, with a mesh underneath it to keep everything in place.

Carol said: “The doctors came to see me afterwards and said they had never seen anything like it. It was the sort of thing they had only seen in medical school.”

It all worked perfectly and while Carol is still not completely back to full health, she said: “I am sore but I am getting there.”

l Carol and husband Paul’s experience has been the spur for them to set up in the property exchange market. Read more about their business on Page 14.