From heartbreak to hope: Wirral dad running London marathon in tribute to his gymnast daughter
1 month ago
Ten years ago Isla Dobson was facing her first major heart surgery after being born with a complex condition which put her life at risk.Today, aged 11, she’s a keen gymnast who performs somersaults and cartwheels, with a talent that could one day see her compete for Team GB.
Mike 42, from Heswall, is running the TCS London Marathon in April to raise funds for the British Heart Foundation, in a tribute to his daughter and to help other families like them.
“Isla does gymnastics fives times a week,” smiles dad, Mike,
“She goes to a gym club threes times a week and has a private tutor twice a week. She loves it and it’s great seeing her with so much energy.
“I’m sure Isla would love to compete for her country, and if she puts in the time and training maybe she will.
“Let’s see. At the moment it’s just wonderful to see her perfectly healthy and doing everything any other girl her age can do. It fills me with delight.
“You wouldn’t believe she has a heart condition and has had to undergo lifesaving open heart surgery twice.”
Mike, a shipping commercial director said;
“We had to go to America for Isla’s surgery because it wasn’t available at home, and I don’t think it is even now. There’s so much more that can be done around the world that’s not available in the UK.
“So I’m doing the marathon for the BHF so, with more research, other children in the UK can benefit and have the same opportunities Isla did.
“It doesn’t bear thinking about what would have happened if we hadn’t found a surgeon in the US who could operate on her.”
Mike and his wife Ali, learned of problems with Isla’s heart before she was born. Scans revealed multiple issues.
She was diagnosed with left atrial isomerism and an AVSD (a large hole between the top chambers and the bottom chambers of the heart) as well as dextrocardia (where the heart is on the right side of the chest, instead of the left).
Isla was monitored closely in hospital after she was born and thankfully didn’t need immediate surgery. Mike says: “We were having regular check-ups from birth until Isla was six months old. They like to delay surgery for as long as possible, to allow the heart to grow and make it easier to operate on.”
But when Isla was just six months old, Isla needed her first open heart surgery to fix the problems with her heart. But the surgery, which left her in intensive care, revealed further complications regarding her condition, which consultants were unable to manage.
“They told us there were no other options in the UK at that time, but that we could look further afield,” explains Mike.
“We found a great paediatric heart surgeon in America who was confident he could fully repair Isla’s heart.”
Isla, then two, underwent a major eight-hour operation to correct the abnormalities of her heart and, thankfully, it was a complete success.
Mike, who now lives in Limassol in Cyprus with his family, says: “After her surgery Isla was on her feet within a few days, and it was like she had a whole new lease of life.
“On the day she was discharged from hospital, we went for what was meant to be a brief walk with her outside the hospital, and suddenly she started to run. She realised she had this energy that she never had before, which was just incredible to see. It was a touching moment for me and my wife.
“It’s been a tough journey for Isla, and our family. To find out that your child has a potentially life-threatening heart condition even before they are born is truly devastating.
“Now though, Isla has annual check-ups with her cardiologist, but other than that, she’s been able to do all the things that children should be able to do. Her oxygen saturation levels are 100%, and there is no loss of quality to her life whatsoever. She’s just an active, healthy child.”
Research into congenital heart conditions is one of the major elements of the life-saving research carried out by the British Heart Foundation, for which Mike is taking on the iconic TCS London Marathon on April 23.
Before the BHF existed, the majority of babies diagnosed with a severe heart defect in the UK did not survive to their first birthday. Today, thanks to research, more than 8 out of 10 survive to adulthood.
Mike says: “I wanted to do something to give back to all the help we’ve been given on Isla’s road to recovery and to raise funds for more research into complex heart conditions, like hers.
“I did a virtual London Marathon in 2020 because of Covid and I did that in four-and-a-half hours, but that was three years ago and I was younger and fitter.
“If I do it in under five, I’ll be happy – but getting across the finishing line is the goal.”
He adds: “It’s a huge challenge but it’s to say thank you to everyone who’s show incredible support to my family over the last 11 years and, by raising money for the BHF’s lifesaving research I hope I can help prevent families in the future from going through similar heartbreak we did.”
Karen McDonnel from BHF says:
“Isla’s story is one of hope. She is a remarkable young girl who has overcome so much to be able to live a normal childhood, as every child should be able to. Every step our runners take will power science with the potential to beat heart and circulatory disease.”
To donate to Mike’s cause, visit their JustGiving page here: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/mikedobsonbhf