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Early birthday party for Sophie before life saving operation

Sophie Stewart

LITTLE Sophie Stewart from Glenavy will be celebrating her fourth birthday nearly three weeks early tomorrow (Saturday) and two days later will fly to England for a life-saving heart operation.

Sophie, who will not actually be four until November 6, heads to Birmingham for the final of three heart operations due to be carried out on October 24.

Her mum Natalie says that the family are hopeful all will go well.

"We fly out on Monday so we decided to have a special birthday party for Sophie with all her friends on Saturday," Natalie said.

Sophie suffers from the rare congenital heart defect hypoplastic left heart syndrome, in which the left side of the heart is severely underdeveloped, and will go to Birmingham Children's Hospital for surgery next week. She has already had three open heart operations since she was born in 2007 and her parents have been told the next step beyond this operation will be a transplant.

Parents Natalie and Stephen held a fundraising event last month which raised £2500 towards the Red Balloon charity based at the hospital and will also help fund part of their trip to England.

The family are preparing to be in England for anything up to 10 weeks.

When Natalie was expecting, an abnormality in Sophie's heart was detected during a routine 20
week scan at the Royal Victoria Hospital. When Sophie was born at 38 weeks she was taken to intensive care by a team of doctors.

The family was told they had two options. One was to leave the baby in the ICU unit where she could quietly pass away.

Sophie gets ready for her first day at nursery school

Sophie gets ready for her first day at nursery school

Sophie gets ready for her first day at nursery school

Sophie gets ready for her first day at nursery school

The other, which the family wanted, was to transfer Sophie to Birmingham where she would undergo major heart surgery. She was taken by air ambulance and underwent a Norwood procedure of open heart surgery. Her parents were prepared for the worst as there was only a 60 per cent survival rate.

Miraculously Sophie got over her first major hurdle and returned to the Royal for a further six weeks.

At just six months old she returned to Birmingham for more invasive surgery. After the surgery she suffered a collapsed lung.

When she left hospital she was put on a feeding machine and eight types of medication per day including aspirin.

However in the past year Sophie has shown signs that she now needs more heart surgery. Her colouring is blue and she often feels tired and breathless.

"This is a rare condition," said Natalie. "Sophie is one of only ten people from here suffering from it.

"The last year and a half you can see she tires easily, her colouring is quite blue and gets out of breath quite easily but apart from that she is just like any normal child. Her doctor at the Royal is very good and has written to the doctors in Birmingham.

"She is a great child and loves nursery. She just started St Josephs nursery last week. Hopefully the operation will help her."

Ulster Star