The new year they never thought we’d see: newlywed who died six times on honeymoon celebrates New Year with his family after receiving a new heart – and a new baby
A newlywed who died six times on his honeymoon after catching a rare heart virus is celebrating the New Year he never thought possible after receiving a new heart – and a new baby.
Andrew Britton, 34, spent over a year in hospital with his life hanging in the balance due to a deadly heart virus – until a donor heart became available in September last year.
But the news was bittersweet for Andrew, and wife Lauren, 33, when they discovered that the medication Andrew had been on may have left him unable to have children.
The couple were researching fertility treatments when Lauren made the shock discovery that she was pregnant.
Baby Frank Fabio – named after the surgeon who performed Andrew’s heart transplant – was born in October this year, and the family have celebrated the miracle Christmas they never thought they would see.
Lauren, from Denham, Buckinghamshire, said: “This Christmas and New Year has meant everything to us.
“I went from thinking my husband would die and that I’d never be a mum, to spending Christmas and New Year with the two most important people in my life – my healthy husband, and my gorgeous little boy.
“We feel incredibly lucky and so thankful to the donor and the donor’s family for the best Christmas present we could ever ask for.
“We lost count of how many times we thought Andrew wouldn’t be here.
“To think that last year we never thought this Christmas would be possible, it’s surreal.
“We have really cherished this time we’ve been given, it’s time we never thought we would have.”
Andrew first became ill just a few hours after arriving on the Maldives for his honeymoon, a day after his wedding in 2012.
Initially, the pair put the groom’s symptoms down to a hangover, but when his condition worsened he was rushed to a local hospital, where medics discovered his heart rate was dangerously high.
Lauren was warned that her husband would die within a few hours if he was not transported to a specialist hospital in Bangkok immediately.
Lauren said: “Andrew was on life support for seven weeks, and eventually he became stable enough to be flown home to the UK.
“It was only when we got home that Andrew was diagnosed with myocarditis, a viral infection that attacks the heart, and we were told that he’d had six heart attacks.”
Back in the UK at Harefield Hospital, Andrew was fitted with an implantable defibrillator but his condition rapidly deteriorated.
To keep him alive the doctors recommended he undergo a major heart operation to implant a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) – which supports the blood pumping function of the heart, and he was told his only chance of survival was a heart transplant.
Mr Fabio De Robertis, consultant cardiac surgeon at Harefield Hospital said: “Patients like Andrew pose a double challenge.
“His own heart wasn’t capable of sustaining the circulation anymore and Andrew’s life was hours away from its end.
“So we implanted the LVAD as a bridge-to-transplant.
“These devices are very powerful but the implantation itself is a big operation at a time when patients are very sick.
“The need for the heart transplant is postponed but it becomes an even more challenging operation because removing the diseased heart and the LVAD is more complex and therefore riskier.”
Lauren said: “It soon became clear that the LVAD alone wasn’t working efficiently enough for Andrew, and he urgently needed a transplant.
“We were in hospital for almost a year and every day we wondered if it would be the day that he’d get his heart.
“Eventually we got the call to say the hospital had a heart ready for him, and he had the 13 hour operation that evening.
“It was so emotional because we knew that someone needed to die in order for Andrew to have his heart – but at the same time we couldn’t believe we’d finally got our second chance.”
The transplant was a success, and a month later Andrew was able to go home.
But sadly, the couple’s joy was tinged with sadness, when medics warned them that the medication Andrew had been on would mean it was unlikely the pair would conceive a child.
Lauren said: “”We had hoped to start a family as soon as we got married, so when we realised that Andrew’s medication would have made having a baby difficult it was really upsetting.
“We had begun talking about fertility treatments, so when I discovered I was pregnant it was such a surprise – we didn’t even think it was possible.
“If you’d have told me back in 2012 that I’d be here today celebrating Christmas with a healthy husband and a new baby boy I’d have never believed you.”
The couple’s little boy, Frank Fabio, was born on the 13th of October.
He was named after the surgeon who transplanted Andrew’s new heart, saving his life.
Lauren said: “It was important to Andrew and I that we name our son after his surgeon.
“He saved Andrew’s life and if it wasn’t for him Frank Fabio wouldn’t be here.
“I never thought that I’d be able to celebrate this Christmas with a healthy husband and a new baby boy – we’re over the moon.
“We can’t thank the doctors, nurses and staff at Harefield Hospital enough, they have been incredible.
“This Christmas was extra special as we spent it with all the people closest to us.
“Our New Years resolution is to simply be happy, healthy, live life to the full and enjoy every moment together.
“We are going to Whitby in the new year, just me, Andrew, Frank and our dog Billie to spend some quality time together – just the four of us.”
Lauren has even written a book, called Strength in Strangers, which documents the rollercoaster her family faced.
She said: “I’ve written the book in order to raise money for Harefield Hospital as a way to give something back for all they did for us.
“The money is going towards an Organ Care System (OCS) – a machine that keeps the donor organ viable until the patient is ready for it to be implanted in the chest.
“Hopefully the funds from the book will ensure more lives can be saved through transplant.”
Mr De Robertis added: “Thanks to the technology that we have available at Harefield Hospital today.
“We can now keep organs waiting longer whilst we safely remove the recipient’s heart together with the LVAD and better prepare the chest cavity to accept the donor heart.
“The system also allows us to accept donors from further afield and to monitor these hearts even during transport when they are kept beating outside the human body.
In this way we increased the number of organs available and became better at selecting hearts that would perform well after transplantation.
The results have been above our expectations and we now use the OCS technology for all our heart transplants.”
Lauren’s book can be purchased online at this address: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Strength-Strangers-story-heartbreak-courage-ebook/dp/B00KWGOBQQ