NHS 75th anniversary: How Edinburgh lives have been changed by the NHS in its 75 years
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For decades, it has been on hand to help with bruises and scrapes, sore heads and stomach aches, broken bones and torn tendons. It has helped welcome millions of lives into the world, and has been by just as many bedsides as last breaths have been taken.
Everyone across the UK will have, at some point, had their life, or the lives of those closest to them, changed or even saved by the National Health Service.
And to mark 75 years of the NHS, which was founded on July 5, 1948, we have spoken to some of those in Edinburgh and the Lothians who owe their lives - and those of their most precious loved ones - to those in our healthcare system.
‘She wouldn’t be here without the NHS’
Eight-year-old Ella Cooper, from Dalkeith, is described by her mum Caroline as a kind and generous child who loves nothing more than going on day trips and playing with her friends and four-year-old brother Max.
But if it wasn’t for the NHS, Caroline said, Ella wouldn’t be here at all.
The youngster was born with Hypoplastic Right Heart Syndrome, which means the right side of her heart is not fully developed and doesn’t function normally. She also has two holes in her heart and dextrocardia, which means the organ is on the wrong side of her chest.
“Ella was diagnosed at my 20-week scan when I was pregnant with her,” said Caroline, 38. “The doctors said it was a complex heart condition and that as she gets older she’ll only be working with half a heart.
“We were obviously given options but we decided to go ahead with the pregnancy. We wanted this baby no matter what, it didn’t matter to us because we loved her already. Of course it was scary to be told that because you don’t plan for anything like that. And it was a really, really difficult time for us. But we just had to get through it.”
Caroline and her partner Alan, 37, welcomed their beautiful baby girl on May 21, 2015, and despite expecting Ella to be taken for her first of three major surgeries straight away, doctors said she was coping well enough without it. It wasn’t until she was eight weeks old that she had to undergo her first surgery - a pulmonary artery band which reduced blood flow to her lungs.
The following months saw her undergo various procedures to help her feed better and her second surgery came when she was three years old. Doctors initially said they expected her to require a third surgery when she was around four years old, but now aged eight, she so far hasn’t had a need for it.
“Ella is just thriving,” she said. “Doctors are amazed by her, she’s just beating the odds and she’s a complete miracle. She has never complained and takes it all in her stride. She has scars all over her chest and stomach but she never questions them, they’re just part of her and she wears them with pride. She’s amazing.”
And she added that none of it would have been possible without the NHS, and the staff and doctors who care for her, particularly Mr Danton, Ella’s surgeon in Glasgow, and Dr Walayat, her cardiologist at Edinburgh’s Sick Kids Hospital.
“We just can’t thank the NHS enough because, without their expertise and drive, Ella wouldn’t be here today,” said Caroline. “Their knowledge and the way they look after her, it’s not just surgeons and doctors but it’s all staff that come in and also charity workers. They are all just amazing and we are so proud of them. Without them, we wouldn’t have this beautiful little girl at all.”
‘Saying thank you doesn’t seem enough’
When Scott Russell began to feel vibrations in his chest in 2016, he knew that it was a matter of time before his heart stopped completely.
The then-58-year-old was at his Bo’ness home when he suffered a cardiac arrest and had just enough time to tell his wife Lorna to call 999 before he collapsed. The next thing he remembers is hearing a paramedic shout ‘he’s back’.
“I had bypass surgery at Edinburgh Royal in 2014 and I never really kept too great,” said Scott, now 65. “I have got heart disease, it runs in my family, and all the problems come from that. I wasn’t expecting to have a cardiac arrest but I knew when I felt the vibrating what was happening.
“I know it was really scary for my wife and people who were there but it wasn’t really for me because I was down and didn’t really get the fright.”
Scott, who spent 41 years working for Falkirk District Council as a maintenance joiner before he had to retire, was taken to Forth Valley Royal Hospital, where he was fitted with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, which sends signals of abnormalities to the hospital and can also perform defibrillation.
It was during his time in hospital that Scott and Lorna, who have three sons called Kenneth, Craig and James, were first reunited with one of the paramedics who saved his life. And just last month, eight years after his cardiac arrest, Scott was once again able to shake hands with the pair, called Scott and Irvine, who had arrived at his house that day and restarted his heart.
“It was one of the best days I’ve had for a really long time. I’ve never felt too much away from them because I think about them a lot and I’m always really, really grateful. So it’s like meeting a long lost friend. That’s how much it means. Saying thank you doesn’t seem enough for someone who saved your life, it just means a lot to you.”
Scott, who also had to call an ambulance for his wife in 2014 when she suffered a stroke, said he will always be grateful for the kindness he has been shown while in the care of the NHS.
“The NHS has always been really, really great to me,” he said. “When I had my bypass operation, I was really ill for a while after it. The care I received was exceptional. There was one nurse, who I only know as Bernie, who would come in early for every shift and she would cycle in in the rain just to make sure I was okay. I’ve always wanted to get back in touch with her to thank her because she helped me through a really difficult time.
“Thank you doesn’t seem to be enough for people who cared for you and who saved your life. It seems a bit futile to say just thank you. But I’m sure they understand just how much we mean by those two words.”
‘They got us through the hardest time of our lives’
Edinburgh mum Amanda Hoatson was just 19 years old when she was told at one of her routine pregnancy scans that her baby had spina bifida - a condition which causes defects in the spine and vertebrae.
And further distress came when her daughter Rebecca was born by emergency c-section on March 10, 2001, and had to be transferred straight away to another hospital for crucial surgery.
“She got transferred because they had to close up the lesion on her back as soon as possible so she was taken away just a couple of hours after she was born,” said Amanda, 41. “I wasn’t able to see her for three or four days because I was recovering from surgery and couldn’t really move.”
Amanda and her now-husband Kevin, 48, took it in turns to stay with Rebecca for the six weeks that she was kept in hospital.
“That was really hard, that was the hardest time of our lives,” said Amanda. “It was just a really stressful and worrying time. But the nurses were always able to calm us down and we always felt like Rebecca was really well looked after.”
And it’s thanks to that care, Amanda said, that Rebecca is now 22 and thriving.
“She’s doing great. She’s had five operations since then and she’s come out the other side stronger than before. At the moment she’s not scheduled to have any more which is great and a big relief.
“It’s all due to the NHS and we owe them such a big thank you for everything they’ve done over the years. The NHS took great care of her.”