Parents from the United Kingdom travelled over 5,000 miles to save daughter Isla’s heart

Saving hearts around the world - Stanford Medicine Children's

Saving hearts around the world – Stanford Medicine Children’s

We are Mike Dobson and Ali Fitzpatrick, proud parents of three-year-old Isla Dobson of Liverpool, U.K., and this is our story.

When Ali became pregnant back in 2010 with Isla, we found out at 16 weeks of pregnancy that our baby had a heart defect, possibly an atrioventricular septal defect, or AVSD. Towards the end of the pregnancy, Ali went for a scan at a hospital in England, where they diagnosed a complete AVSD — which the hospital said they could likely repair in a single surgery.

Ali and I were thrilled when Isla was born on June 15, 2011. Thankfully, there were no issues at birth, and Isla had many regular visits to her cardiologist in Liverpool.

Saving hearts around the world - Stanford Medicine Children's

Saving hearts around the world – Stanford Medicine Children’s

But when she was about 6 months old, the hospital decided it would be the best time for Isla’s surgery. As you can imagine, Ali and I were devastated when the surgery did not go well. The doctors discovered a lot more complications in Isla’s heart, and she was in an extremely critical condition. They even had to undo the entire repair they had performed on our daughter’s heart and fit a PA band.

Frustrated by a lack of progress, Ali started researching heart surgeons around the world through different forums and websites. The name that kept popping up was Dr. Frank Hanley, a pediatric heart surgeon at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford. By this time, Isla was 2½ years old and doing OK, but the hospital in England still did not have a good solution as to how to correct her heart defects.

Ali contacted Dr. Hanley in September, 2013. At his request, we sent across all of Isla’s medical records from the UK. Dr. Hanley wrote back a couple of weeks later telling us that he was confident he could carry out a “full repair with a high degree of success.”

This was the best news in the world for us. We couldn’t believe how positive and confident Dr. Hanley was. We were also in touch with cardiologist Dr. Stafford Grady at Stanford. He was also extremely positive and welcoming. He really cared and understood that we had nearly lost Isla during her first surgery, and he took so much time to reassure us. There really was no decision to be made. It was clear for us and our families that Isla needed to be operated on by Dr. Hanley.

We travelled to California at the beginning of March, 2014. First, we took Isla to Disneyland for a week as a nice treat. Then, we flew up to San Francisco and after a few days of pre-op tests and scans, Isla had her surgery with Dr. Hanley on March 14 at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford. We were given regular updates during her surgery, and Dr. Grady also gave us so much support. Dr. Hanley came to see us before he went into the operating room, and we will never forget his words of encouragement and support. He spoke to us as soon as he came out of surgery and told us that everything had gone very well, and he was very pleased with the outcome. This was without a doubt the best day of our lives, and something we never thought would happen!

Three weeks later, after a full recovery, we left the hospital with Isla. After a week of seeing San Francisco, we flew back to the UK and haven’t been happier as a family since!

Isla had her 3rd birthday this past June, shortly after we got back to UK, Ali and I threw a big party to celebrate both her birthday and the success of Dr. Hanley’s surgery.

We are thankful beyond words to Dr. Hanley, Dr. Grady, Dr. Chris Weiss, Fiorenza Lukas from International Medical Services, all the OR and nurse staff, all the CVICU & 3 West Doctors & nurses (especially Dr. Weiss) and Jeanie Liang from Child Life. They were all amazing! The hospital was lovely and the care was outstanding, everything we could have hoped for. We think about all these special people often and how much they have impacted our lives, especially Dr. Hanley, who is just a miracle man in our eyes!

Discover more about our Pediatric Heart Program or call (650) 721-2121.


2 Responses to “Parents from the United Kingdom travelled over 5,000 miles to save daughter Isla’s heart”

  1. Karen Dutton

    I am Isla’s Great Aunty and Godmother. I was with Ali at one of her early scans, that revealed Isla had a serious heart condition. It was devastating news for Mike & Ali and the start of the heartache and anxiety to follow. They sought the best place to give birth (in the UK) and even moved home to give Isla the best chance of survival at birth. They had a great team of surgeons around them at the birth of Isla and thankfully she arrived without incident. Their relief was temporary and as the months progressed (after regular check-ups at their local hospital in the UK), they were becoming more and more anxious as to when the surgery would be performed. Isla was doing well considering her condition and the surgeons didn’t want to operate until the benefit outweighed the risk. At every hospital visit, they were told it may be soon. It was like waiting for your baby to become poorly, before being given the chance to get better. Mike & Ali are not the sort to sit around waiting and Ali started to search for the best surgeon (for Isla’s condition). At one point, she even typed in a search engine ‘the best children’s AVSD surgeon in the world’ and Doctor Hanley’s name came up. Ali then researched Doctor Hanley further, which led to them contacting Stanford Children’s hospital. Once the surgery was agreed, Mike and Ali’s anxiety took a different turn. They were now handing over a ‘seemingly’ well little girl for major heart surgery. Ali spoke with Nurse Staff on many occasions, who detected her anxiety and reassured her that all would be well and Isla would be in safe hands.
    I remember the day of the surgery like it was yesterday. I was many thousands of miles away but wanted to be with them in spirit, so I visited my local church every day until Isla left the hospital.
    I would like to thank Doctor Hanley, Nurse Staff and all their dedicated team for the amazing work they have done and for giving Isla and her parents a new lease of life, for which we will be eternally grateful.

  2. Shannon

    What a lovely story! I’ve known Dr. Grady for many years and when I worked in his office I was able to see many miracles, like Isla’s, firsthand. God bless your little miracle!


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