‘Doctors told me I’d only have weeks left to live without a new heart’, says Birmingham mum

Sarah, who is from Woodgate Valley, was born with a heart condition which worsened during her pregnancy
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A Birmingham mum was told she could have just weeks to live after going into heart failure following her pregnancy.

Sarah Tierney is now helping to shine a spotlight on hidden heart conditions and highlight what can be done to help after she underwent a lifesaving heart transplant.

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Sarah, from Woodgate Valley in Birmingham, was born with a congenital heart condition called transposition of the great arteries. It meant that the two main blood vessels in her heart had switched positions.  

She said: “My parents had no idea I had the condition until I was born and came out blue. I needed multiple surgeries to repair the defect and reroute my blood through my heart and body.”

The surgery was a success and Sarah, who is now supporting a new campaign from the British Heart Foundation, led a completely normal childhood until she was 15. 

Sarah, 36, said: “I was starting to become quite out of breath and was put on daily medication. It was a bit of a shock because I’d gone for so long without needing anything.  

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“My main concern was if I’d ever be able to have children as I’d always wanted to be a mother. Doctors told me I could, but I’d need to have them early – it was a huge relief to know that.” 

Sarah met her now husband, Damon, when she was 16 and at 18 came off her medication to get pregnant – something which happened straight away. Tragically, their son Joseph was born at 31 weeks and passed away after contracting group B strep.

“It was a really tough time and the pregnancy had put my heart under a lot of strain, so I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get pregnant again,” said Sarah. “I was having a lot of arrhythmia issues and was put on beta blockers. I waited until things had settled and two years later I was pregnant with my son Jake.” 

However, the pregnancy led Sarah to go into heart failure. She was given medication to help but this was slowing Jake’s growth, leading to him being delivered in July 2007 at 34 weeks via C-section. Thankfully after a couple of weeks on oxygen in hospital, he was able to come home.  

Sarah TierneySarah Tierney
Sarah Tierney

‘I was unsure if one Christmas would be my last’

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Sarah said: “After he was born I was put on a lot more heart failure medication. But because I had Jake after losing Joseph, it was all about him. I pushed myself to the back and just got on with things.” 

She continued to have regular checks at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital but when Jake was five, Sarah started experiencing more serious arrhythmia issues. Over the next two years she had a series of ablations and a pacemaker fitted. However, her heart condition was getting worse and in 2014, when Sarah was just 27, she was put on the transplant list. 

Sarah said: “I was deteriorating badly. I couldn’t get up the stairs, my lips and nails were turning blue and things were worsening. That December doctors wanted me to stay in hospital, but I was determined to have Christmas at home, unsure if it would be my last. I went in on the 28th and I remember them saying I would only have weeks to live without a new heart. 

“It was a really tough time, especially when Jake came to visit. Each time I was left wondering if that would be the last time I’d see him.” 

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However she didn’t have to wait long. On January 6, 2015, a suitable donor was found and Sarah underwent an eight-hour transplant operation.  

The procedure was a success, and Sarah spent the next seven days in a coma as her body got used to her new heart. Eventually she came round and began her recovery, going back home on February 14.

Damon, Sarah and JakeDamon, Sarah and Jake
Damon, Sarah and Jake

For the next year, Sarah was in and out of hospital, while doctors assessed her medication and checked for rejection. It wasn’t long until things settled down. 

 She said: “I felt like a new person. We were going on holiday and I could go cycling and swimming with Jake. It was like I had a new lease of life, it was amazing.” 

 Since her surgery Sarah has carried out several fundraising activities for the transplant team at the Queen Elizabeth. She even makes hampers for children and adults waiting for transplants too. 

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