Family's 100-mile Leeds fundraiser after baby's life saved in 'miracle operation'

Smiles: Iris Bell, now 16-months-old, with her dad, Ashley Bell.
Smiles: Iris Bell, now 16-months-old, with her dad, Ashley Bell.
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A dad whose baby’s life was saved in a “miracle” operation in Leeds is preparing to cycle 100 miles to raise money as a thank you to the hospital.

Iris Bell underwent open heart surgery to replace her faulty heart valve with a mechanical one when she was just five months old.

Iris underwent a lifesaving operation at Leeds General Infirmary.

Iris underwent a lifesaving operation at Leeds General Infirmary.

Despite the complexity of the procedure on a child so small, Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) consultant cardiac surgeon Osama Jaber was one of just a handful of surgeons to have experience carrying out the operation.

It was a success and Iris, now 16 months, is healthy and growing as normal.

Read more: The Leeds surgeon who ‘performed a miracle’ to save baby Iris
Her dad, Ashley Bell, launched a #RideForIris fundraising drive in a bid to raise cash for Leeds’ Children’s Heart Surgery Fund, which supports the LGI’s children’s wards.

He has so far raised more than £10,000 and will on Saturday be joined by a squad of 37 cyclists for a 106-mile challenge that finishes at the hospital where Iris was cared for.

“I have been building up from the end of January, cycling in miserable conditions to prepare,” the 34-year-old told the YEP.

“I was considering the London Marathon until a friend of mine said, ‘Why don’t you cycle to the hospital?’ and it has just grown from there.”

The family’s fundraising comes as the YEP is shining a light on the city’s lifesaving healthcare staff, as part of our We Love Our NHS campaign.

A total of 37 riders - including colleagues and friends - will hit the tarmac for the challenge this weekend.

They will cycle from Horncastle - a market town in Lincolnshire where the family live - to Leeds General Infirmary’s Clarendon Wing.

“We have obviously been to Leeds since Iris’ surgery every two to three months,” Mr Bell said.

“But it’s always emotional coming back to Leeds for us.”

As previously reported by the YEP, Iris was born with severe mitral valve regurgitation – a rare condition that causes blood to flow the wrong way inside the heart because the valve wasn’t working correctly.

It meant that her body struggled to process fluids, and Iris would vomit every time she fed.

Just a small number of surgeons in the country had performed the operation, hailed a “miracle” by her parents, to fit her with a mechanical valve, carried out successfully at the LGI.

Her mum, Sophie Bell, said: “Iris has been doing really well bless her.

“She has managed to stay out of hospital [since her operation].

“The doctors are really pleased with her and she is back where she needs to be in terms of growth now.”

The 30-year-old said the charity her husband is fundraising for - the LGI-based Children’s Heart Surgery Fund - was an important cause for the family.

“The charity were the people that supported us when Iris had her operation,” she said.

“It’s very close to our hearts.

“They are building a new theatre too now - which Iris may need to make use of at some point in the future.”

Read more: £500,000 is raised to help pay for Leeds heart theatre
Due to her condition, it is likely that Iris will need to undergo the procedure again when she is older to have the mechanical valve replaced with a bigger one as her body grows.

“She will have to have her heart valve replaced but it depends on the person - it could be when she is three, four or eight,” Mrs Bell said.

“They can’t really say because they haven’t experienced this with someone as young as her.”

Mr Bell and his fellow fundraisers will set off on the challenge for charity on Saturday.

To donate, visit: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Ashley-Bell4

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