A Lincolnshire woman with an ongoing heart condition, who technically died three times during life-saving surgery, wants others to make sure they seek medical attention and not ignore any symptoms.
Megan Mitchell, 24, who is from Marton near Gainsborough, has a rare blooding clotting condition called Antiphospholipid syndrome.
She has heart failure as a result of valves leaking, and a mass was only diagnosed in October last year, but was there for around 15 years (which she likely had from childhood without noticeable symptoms).
Megan suffered three strokes between October and November last year before a heart attack in December.
She spent three weeks in hospital in Scunthorpe until Christmas Eve and then was transferred to Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge.
After being in hospital for four weeks, Megan had an open heart surgery for 12 hours, where she technically died three times before the doctors saved her life and stabilised her.
The procedure called pulmonary endarterectomy is high risk, as it involved draining all the blood from her body and putting Megan on a heart and lung bypass machine. This was to keep her arteries clear from blood, so the surgical team can see and remove the obstruction.
Megan said the surgeons had 20 minutes at a time to work in a bloodless area before the blood must be introduced again at a cooled 20 degrees Celsius, so the organs wouldn’t die. In her case, the blood supply was turned off three times due to complications of a hole in the heart and a severely leaking valve.
Megan had to go into surgery again a week later to drain some excess fluid and is now making a good recovery, although she is likely to face further operations in the near future.
It can be hard to walk at times for Megan, who gets breathless when walking and talking. She is also on a lot of medication that can cause side effects, including dizziness and breathlessness. She tries to set a routine around her tablets as one, for example, causes her to need to urinate frequently.
She contacted The Lincolnite saying she read a report from the British Heart Foundation about the backlog of care, which could take five years to recover, and the waiting list may more than double.
Megan said: “This seems very scary, especially if you are on the waiting list yourself. My message would be to keep in contact with your hospital and keep updated with what’s happening, and don’t be afraid to seek help as they are there for your best interests.
“I was technically dead for 20 minutes three times. It was terrifying and there was a significant chance (before the surgery) that I wouldn’t make it, and the risk for me was higher as it was in my heart as well as my artery.
“The staff and the care [at Royal Papworth Hospital] were second to none. If anyone else is sent there, they will be under the best care, they are the leading heart hospital for a reason, and I can’t thank them enough for saving my life.”
Megan feels much better than she did last year, but said “I am not out of the woods yet”.
She still has an ongoing heart condition and heart failure, and is waiting to find out what the next step is, but is hopeful she will be having surgery in October.
The operation will be to put a clip in the leaking valve to reduce the regurgitation of blood. Depending how that goes, Megan may need a heart and lung transplant in the future.
She said: “It is scary as I know I need more surgery, but I have complete faith in the hospital who did such a good job. I was seen quickly and have been very lucky.
“I want to stand alongside the professionals and urge people who suffer heart complaints to get their symptoms checked out to save their life.
“The British Heart Foundation has urged people to still come forward for medical treatment despite the COVID pandemic, which is seeing a lot of people ignore their symptoms just like I did, which worsens their case and puts more pressure on the NHS as their treatment is delayed and often more serious once being treated.”
Megan said that breathlessness, dizziness, fainting and the general feeling of being lethargic and under the weather are symptoms to look out for, and to get checked by the GP.
She would also urge anyone getting shooting pains down their arm or chest area, or getting any heart attack symptoms, to call 999 straight away.
Megan said: “In my case when I had my heart attack, I didn’t ring 999 immediately and was very anxious and didn’t want to make a scene. I felt unwell later and phoned 111 and an ambulance was sent to take me straight to hospital.
“It was terrifying as I didn’t really know what was going on, and with COVID as well I couldn’t have visitors. A mental health practitioner visited daily to check on me, which did help.”