Katherine’s ordeal began the morning after her birth, when a vigilant mid-wife spotted she was blue and unusually quiet for a new born. She was rushed to a specialist children’s hospital, leaving her mother, Rachel, alone in the maternity ward.
“I went into having babies thinking it’ll all be sweetness and light,” says Rachel. “And then, for them just to say that something was wrong, it was indescribable. They discovered she had some sort of heart problem – in the right side of her heart, the valves were not formed and were blocked.”
Katherine had an immediate operation to increase the blood flow to her lungs, followed, 15 months’ later, by heart surgery, which saved her life. Thought initially small for her age, Katherine had a fairly normal childhood – although her condition meant she was prone to cold and had to be careful of contact sports, so she was often stuck inside when school friends were out playing.
Later she had a final heart surgery, to finish was Rachel describes as her ‘replumbing’. At that point Katherine went onto warfarin. “I had blood tests at the hospital and it took time out of school. It was pretty traumatic going there pretty much every month,” she says.
“It was quite a step going on to warfarin,” Rachel agrees, “because obviously you have to have monthly blood tests, sometimes more, depending on how stable your INR is.”
Katherine quickly grew to hate having blood tests, and developed a dislike of needles that persists to this day. Rachel, meanwhile, was upset by having to drag Katherine – sometime’s literally – to the hospital for INR tests.
“To then find there was a little machine which you can then prick your finger with and drop of blood and instant result was just magic, absolute magic,” says Rachel.
For someone whose early life was overshadowed by her condition, CoaguChek® has given Katherine and her family a longed-for sense of normality. “I have to use a CoaguChek® machine a couple of times a month,” says Katherine. “It’s really helpful. I can just do it whenever I need to. People don’t really realise that I have a heart condition.”
Critically, too, it’s also helped Katherine approach becoming a young adult with a sense of independence. She passed her GCSEs and, last year, she went on her first holiday abroad without her parents.
“She went to Portugal with her girlfriends,” says Rachel. “She took her CoaguChek®. This year there’s even been talk about Ayia Napa.”
“Having the CoaguChek® machine has given her the confidence to go out into the big wide world and know that she has a handle on looking after herself,” says Rachel. “She’s about to do her A-Levels in the summer and go off to uni in September.”
For any parent, a child leaving home is a bittersweet moment, but for Rachel it’s especially so. Having spent Katherine’s early years worrying about her survival, she now finds herself able to contemplate Katherine’s going to university in a different city.
“The course she’s chosen sounds great. She’ll have a whale of a time,” says Rachel. “But I am going to miss her terribly…”