It’s a distressing time – but surprisingly common – when your newborn baby is found to have a slight heart murmur. Checking your baby’s heart is one of the early tests that happens in hospital soon after you give birth, and if you’ve got a healthy-looking newborn, it’s not something you’re prepared for.
When footballer Theo Walcott and his wife Melanie were given the news after the birth of their son Finley, they were reassured that a heart murmur wasn’t rare and would probably heal within 24 hours.
But Finley’s heart didn’t heal and the couple revealed to the Mirror that the next few weeks were full of fear.
“The doctor told us to look for symptoms babies with heart defects can have, but I was scared in case I missed them,” explains Melanie.
“He said often babies go blue, become unresponsive or get out of breath when feeding. I looked for those signs but kept saying ‘What happens if we miss it?’”
Finley was born in April 2014, after a straight-forward pregnancy with no hint that anything was wrong with Finley’s heart. Melanie gave birth two weeks early, and it was then that a doctor detected that their newborn son had a heart murmur.
When the heart problem was still present a day later, little Fin underwent tests to find out what was going on.
Melanie and Theo stayed at their new baby’s side as he spent five days in hospital to try and establish what was wrong with him. Eventually, it was found that Finley had pulmonary valve stenosis, a congenital heart defect where a valve does not properly open and causes the heart to enlarge in order to pump blood around the lungs.
Melanie admits that she and Theo were ‘terrified’ about the diagnosis, but that little Fin was soon under consultant care, and his surgery booked. His worried mum describes the operation on her tiny baby’s heart as the ‘hardest two-and-a- half hours’ of her life.
Happily, little Finley made a full recovery, but will still have check ups until he is 16. Melanie, 25, is now raising awareness of the Children’s Air Ambulance Service in her role as patron, and is confident that the operation has given Finley a full new life.
“He’s 14 months now so he’s really discovering the world and his independence. He’s into everything he can get his hands on,” his proud mum tells the paper. “He’s running and climbing, and he’s kicking balls too. He’ll pick a beach ball up, drop it, and on the bounce, kick it. It’s incredible. He just did it naturally without Theo showing him what to do!”