14/08/2012 16:44 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

'Braveheart' Baby Girl Is Youngest Person Ever To Have A Life-Saving Cardiac Operation

'Braveheart' baby girl is youngest person ever to have a life-saving cardiac operation
Hotspot Media

Phoebe Whittle is one very special little girl.

She was just four weeks old when she became the youngest person in Britain to receive a life-saving cardiac operation after her heart swelled to twice its normal size just days after her birth.

Phoebe was born with a congenital defect which gave her heart just a third of the oxygen that is needed for it to work properly. It also meant her heart ballooned from the size of a walnut to the size of an orange.

But following groundbreaking surgery at Alder Hey Children's Hospital, she is now at home with her parents Charlotte, 27, and Carl, 32, from Lancashire, who have dubbed their daughter 'Braveheart'.

"It's horrible to think the pain she was going through. She looked healthy on the outside for those first few weeks but inside she was so poorly," says proud mum Charlotte.


But she's meant to be here and it's incredible the recovery she's made. She was home within ten days and it can take babies up to four weeks to be ready to come home. She's tiny for her age but we're all just so glad she's here.


Phoebe had already battled through pneumonia at just a week old when she was rushed to Alder Hey following scans at Royal Bolton Hospital which raised concerns about her heart.

The then four-week-old was diagnosed with ALCAPA (Anomalous Left Coronary Artery from the Pulmonary Artery), which meant the artery to her heart muscle was connected incorrectly, starving it of oxygen.

Doctors confirmed a five hour operation was needed to save the little girl's life, as it was predicted she would only live a couple of weeks without it. If left untreated, 90 per cent of children with the ALCAPA defect do not survive their first year of life. The condition affects around one in 20,000 newborns and is often not detected until weeks or months after birth.

"I felt like I was a bit of a fraud taking her back to hospital after her pneumonia but one of the nurses noticed she was starting to go blue," explains Charlotte.

"At the time I don't think I understood the enormity of the nurse taking that blood test. It was her quick thinking that saved her life and got her to Alder Hey.

"We were told her condition was life threatening and that surgery would be needed to save her life. If they hadn't checked the blood we could have taken her home and just found her dead one morning. I can't look at photos of Phoebe in those first few weeks, it's just too upsetting. She just couldn't breathe and there was no way she could tell us."

After three days in intensive care and a week in the cardiac ward following her surgery, Phoebe was allowed home with Charlotte, Carl and her 19-month-old brother, Louis.

Thanks to the surgery, Phoebe should live a normal life with regular check-ups and medication to help regulate her heartbeat.

Dr Rob Johnson, Consultant Paediatric Cardiologist at Alder Hey Hospital said: "She is the youngest we've operated on and was lucky in some ways because she was diagnosed at half the age some children are.

"Often, like Phoebe's case of pneumonia, the condition is often diagnosed as just a heavy cold so ALCAPA can take several heart scans to detect. It's quite a subtle condition to pick up even when you're dealing with a specialist centre like you are here, it can be difficult to pin down.


Phoebe's recovery time was remarkable, it's usually three or four weeks before babies of this age are ready to go home. There's only seven centres that do this procedure nationally and we were really pleased we could help.


"Phoebe hit the sweet spot of the NHS. The team in Bolton did a great job spotting it and we have great surgeons here who provided an excellent outcome for Phoebe and her family."

Charlotte and Carl organised money-raising activities for the Ronald McDonald House at Alder Hey - a purpose built facility that allows parents to stay on site whilst children undergo operations. You can donate at