The Leeds surgeon who ‘performed a miracle’ to save baby Iris

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Passing their tiny baby daughter over to the care of a surgeon in Leeds, Sophie and Ashley Bell hoped for a miracle.

Passing their tiny baby daughter over to the care of a surgeon in Leeds, Sophie and Ashley Bell hoped for a miracle.

LGI surgeon, Osama Jaber.

LGI surgeon, Osama Jaber.

That’s because at just five-months-old, and running out of time, baby Iris Bell had to undergo open heart surgery to replace her faulty heart valve with a mechanical one.

A complex procedure on a child so small, Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) consultant cardiac surgeon Osama Jaber warned her parents of the risks involved and only proceeded as a last resort.

“Her life was literally in his hands,” says Mrs Bell, 29.

And it was.

Iris was born with severe mitral regurgitation – a rare condition that causes blood to flow the wrong way inside the heart, because her valve wasn’t working properly.

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

Only a small number of surgeons in the country had performed the operation because Iris’s condition is so rare.

The serious procedure in July last year left her heart with a mechanical valve, allowing her to eat properly and grow.

Six months on, Iris is now on the mend after the successful operation and will celebrate her first birthday on January 28.

Today, as part of the YEP’s We Love Our NHS campaign, her parents have paid tribute to the LGI’s heroic surgeon Dr Jaber, who saved their daughter’s life in what they described as a “miracle”.

“This man really is a hero,” says Mrs Bell.
“Not only to Iris but to so many other children.
“It is likely that Iris will need to undergo similar heart surgery again throughout her lifetime, to replace the artificial valve with a larger one.”

The family, who live in Lincolnshire, have travelled to Leeds for Iris’s complex care.

Mrs Bell said: “We were told that her condition was rare and we would struggle to find anyone else in the country who would have come across this, and performed the operation needed several times. 

“So her life was literally in the surgeon’s hands. 

“This man truly deserves a medal of recognition.

“No salary he is paid will ever be enough for the magnificent work he is highly skilled in doing.” 

The YEP launched our We Love Our NHS campaign on January 2, in a bid to praise the region’s hardworking, and often unseen, NHS staff. 

Speaking after being nominated as part of our campaign, Mr Jaber said it was “an absolute honour” to be put forward by Mrs Bell for recognition.

“Every child that I treat is like my own and I was really quite emotional when I was told about this nomination,” he told the YEP.

“Just to hear such kind words is fantastic.
“It is an absolute honour to be nominated by Sophie and I am extremely grateful and quite humbled by the experience. 
“Of course I don’t work alone and everything that we do here is part of a team effort.”

The congenital cardiac team at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust works year-round to support more than 13,000 patients in Yorkshire and beyond, from being babies right through to adulthood. 

Mr Jaber added: “Without the team around me I simply wouldn’t be able to do what I do, everyone plays their part. 

“Thank you Sophie for your kind words, it really means a lot.”

Mum-of-two Mrs Bell, who works as a self-employed beautician to ensure her time is flexible for Iris, said her daughter’s life has been turned around by the operation.

“Iris is doing amazing now,” she said. 

“She still has a feeding tube in at the moment, for a bit of extra growth, but we are hoping that will be out in the next week.

“She is such a different child to what she was before the operation, I can’t believe what a difference it made by him doing it.

“It was really frightening but it’s incredible what surgeons can do.

“We still have ups and downs because of the changes with her heart valve, but she is doing great now.”

She praised the care she received from the NHS trust in Leeds, despite having to travel miles from her home.

“I know the other surgeons at Leeds who perform these miracles on such small children and babies are also one in a million,” Mrs Bell said. 

“We cannot fault the NHS. We have had nothing but first class service throughout our difficult times in 2017.”

Mrs Bell said that is now likely that Iris will need to undergo the procedure again when she is older, to have the mechanical heart valve replaced with a bigger one as her body continues to grow.

“I’m hoping that Dr Jaber will still be around and have not retired for that operation,” she added.

Family’s fundraising journey this year

The Bell family’s journey in Leeds is continuing this year, as Iris’s dad Ashley, 34, is preparing to cycle to the city in a gruelling challenge to raise money for the LGI’s heart surgery unit.

Mr Bell, along with friends, will cycle 100 miles on June 2 from the family’s home in Horncastle to the LGI as a thank you for the care they received in the city.

He is raising money for the Children’s Heart Surgery Fund, a vital charity that supports the hospital’s children’s wards.

Click here to donate to Mr Bell’s fundraising efforts for the charity