A Leighton Buzzard mother is urging residents to support the British Heart Foundation, after her brave baby daughter faced major surgery but still made it home in time for Christmas.
Jennifer Geary, 33, is looking to start a support group in the town and raise awareness about the charity, because her little girl Amy has already faced two major heart operations in her short lifetime.
When Amy was just 12 weeks old in November 2017, doctors discovered that she had a heart murmur and a coarctation (narrowing) of the aorta, so she was sent to Great Ormond Street Hospital for immediate surgery.
However, despite the operation being a success, Amy still had a VSD (a hole in the wall separating the two lower chambers of the heart) and aortic stenosis (a narrowing of the aortic valve opening) and the family prepared themselves to spend Christmas 2018 apart while Amy faced open heart surgery.
Jennifer said: “We prepared to be apart as a family and not have Christmas together. One of the worst conversations I had was with Amy’s brothers, Jack  and Daniel [eight] who said ‘Mum, we don’t want you to go to London’.
“I said, ‘I’m really sorry boys but I have to do this.’ It was really heartwrenching, but you can’t protect your children from reality.
“Before the operation, Amy wasn’t aware what was going to happen. I told her ‘sweet dreams little one, see you later. Behave yourself and be a good girl’.
“When you think about the surgery, there’s no easy way to hear that someone is going to stop your child’s heart.”
Amy’s journey began when she was 12 weeks old and she and her mother were at a routine appointment in Luton and Dunstable Hospital.
The family had been offered the check-up as mum Jennifer has a heart condition (a murmur), but little did the pair know that they wouldn’t be going home that day.
Jennifer said: “I was told that Amy had a life-threatening heart condition and that we wouldn’t be leaving the hospital. It was like being hit by a freight train.
“We were in the L&D for two days because we had to wait for GOSH to take us - they are so in demand, it’s one in and one out.
“Doctors said that they didn’t know how Amy had got this far without ‘crashing’ and when GOSH were ready we were blue lighted and taken down by the East of England Ambulance Service.”
Luckily, the operation was a success and brave Amy had spent three-and-a-half weeks (altogether) in hospital before she was allowed to go home.
Jennifer and her husband Brendan Geary, 50, thought their daughter coped amazingly with all the “machines, incubation and oxygen”, and staff were pleased with how she progressed.
The Great Ormond Street doctors were hopeful that Amy’s VSD (hole) would close up by itself, but in October 2018, the Geary’s were informed that it wasn’t closing and the aortic stenosis was putting a lot of pressure on her heart and lungs.
The brave tot was to face surgery once again in December at just 16 months old.
Jennifer said: “The staff at Great Ormond Street don’t hide anything from you and they are very clear from the offset.
“They had hoped to avoid another operation but it wasn’t meant to be. During the surgery, they had to open her rib cage, break her ribs, stop her heart and put it on a bypass.
“But Amy was incredible. She got through it and she came home after two days!
“We’d packed big suitcases, prepared for the long haul. Her brothers were elated, very emotional.”
Jennifer is now hoping to encourage residents to fundraise for the British Heart Foundation and is also keen to start a support group for families who have shared similar experiences.
She said: “We need to raise more awareness, because people can go home without conditions being picked up.
“There was a kind of guilt about ‘how did I not know?’ but Amy’s condition is not genetic, and all the health professionals said that you can’t blame yourself, because it’s not your fault.
“At the end of the day, we had an opportunity to put it right - there are some that don’t.
“Amy’s larger than life, a very active, very kind hearted, very loving little girl who will take on any challenge.
“She’s fearless and we wish to thank the staff at GOSH who go in and do what they do every day. They are amazing.”
Sarah Cunningham BHF Fundraising Manager for Bedfordshire & Cambridgeshire said: “‘The British Heart Foundation (BHF) is calling on the people of Leighton Buzzard and surrounding areas to help accelerate the fight against heart disease by joining Jennifer in starting a local fundraising support group and raise money for lifesaving research.
“Fundraising groups are the face of the BHF in their local communities. From running fundraising events to supporting schools and local businesses and organising collections, they are a fantastic way to support our vital work.”
For more information contact Sarah Cunningham, BHF Fundraising Manager for Bedfordshire & Cambridgeshire by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.bhf.org.uk/localfundraising