Pop star Justin Bieber may have his own problems at the moment, but for one Yorkshire family he is a hero. Catherine Scott reports.
When a charity offered to grant seven-year-old heart patient Ruby Varley’s wish there was only ever one answer – to meet superstar Justin Bieber.
“We never really thought it would happen,” says mum Natalie.
“He is such a big star but Make a Wish Foundation said they would do their best. We didn’t want to get Ruby’s hopes up, even after they said they were going to organise it. Then the bomb attack happened at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester and we thought they may even cancel it and so we didn’t tell her until we were actually at the airport having pretended we were picking something up for her younger brother Ethan’s birthday.”
The moment Ruby found out her dream was to come true is captured on an emotional video.
Make a Wish Foundation flew the family to Switzerland, put them up in a top hotel, paid for tickets to see Justin Bieber and then organised for Ruby and her parents to go backstage to meet the star who last week cancelled the rest of his world tour.
The moment Ruby met her hero was also caught on video.
“We couldn’t believe how amazing he was with Ruby. His manager said that he had a sister around Ruby’s age and it really showed. He just got down to her level and talked gently to her as she was a bit overwhelmed I think.
“He brought some things for her which he signed and then he posed for photographs with her and even kissed her which I think shocked her a bit. He spent quite a long time talking to her. We weren’t sure about him as a role model before we met him because of some of the problems he’s had in the past, but he completely won us over. He was so genuine. The charity said that he does a lot with them and has granted more than 300 wishes.”
Ruby was granted her wish after spending most of her life in and out of hospital after being born with a congenital heart problem which meant she had her first heart surgery at just four weeks old.
“We didn’t find out anything was wrong with Ruby until she was three days old,” explains Natalie.
“She was a very sleepy baby and didn’t feed well at all. During a routine baby check the doctor told us she could detect a heart murmur but, as Ruby was born six weeks early this was common and we thought it would probably heal on its own.”
But when the midwife checked Ruby’s oxygen saturations and found out it was only 57 per cent, she was rushed to the neonatal ward at St James’s Hospital and put on a ventilator.
“We were devastated – we couldn’t believe our newborn baby girl had been so seriously ill and we just didn’t know.”
An ECG and heart ultrasound scan confirmed the awful news that Ruby had a rare, life-threatening heart defect and without surgery she would die.
Ruby was transferred to the heart unit at the Leeds General Infirmary and, at that point, the family’s lives changed forever.
“We didn’t know if Ruby would survive,” says Natalie.
They were able to take her home to Kippax when she was six weeks old. Ruby needed to be a certain size before she could have a further operation to repair her heart.
“We visited cardiac outpatients every three months and after about a year Ruby was showing signs she needed her next operation as she became blue and breathless and wasn’t meeting her milestones,” recalls Natalie.
“I received the phone call I was dreading on December 19, 2010 to say Ruby was now at the top of the surgery list and a bed was ready for her and she needed to go into hospital in two days’ time. There was then a mad rush to see family as we had to cancel all our Christmas celebrations. Ruby underwent nine hours of open heart surgery on December 21.
“The surgeon was very honest with us and said he had no pre-surgery plan for Ruby as her defect was so complex he was going to decide what he could do once he could see her heart. We were petrified but knew that without this surgery she would die anyway.
“Handing her over to the surgery team was probably the hardest thing we have ever had to do but we knew she was in the best hands. After the longest day of our lives, we got the call to say she was out of theatre and recovering in intensive care and seeing her again was such a relief. She was so pink and looked so well.”
Ruby recovered well and was off the ventilator and breathing by herself after just 14 hours, and was back up on the ward two days after the operation.
“Ruby is a lively, busy chatterbox who does not let her condition stand in the way of leading a normal life. She attends mainstream school, is excelling in her learning, loves being around other kids and has made lots of friends, although she cannot always do all the things the other children are doing.
“She knows her limits and knows when to have time out to rest and she has coped so well with what life has thrown at her so far.”
Doctors had thought Ruby would have needed another operation by now but Natalie says they are trying to hold off as long as possible as the operation carries its own risks.
“We struggled at first to accept her condition as we didn’t know what the future would hold, but Ruby soldiered on and was such a happy baby. We knew we had to stay strong for her. I do have days when I cry as does my husband – we just try not to do it together.”
Natalie had counselling through the hospital in the run up to Ruby’s second operation which she says really helped. Ruby was dubbed a ‘failure to thrive’ baby when she was born,” says Natalie.
“She is eight this month and has proved everyone wrong.”
The Varley Family are raising money for the charity that made Ruby’s dream come true.
They are organising a family event for the Make-A-Wish Foundation at Garforth Working Men’s Club on September 2. Natalie hopes to raise £3,000 to help the charity grant the wishes of other children like Ruby.
Make-A-Wish UK grant wishes to enrich the lives of children and young people fighting life-threatening conditions. Granting their wish provides seriously ill children with hope for the future, strength to cope and resilience to fight their condition.
Visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/natalie-varley1 for more information.