Oli's new heart

7 July 2014        

Oli Harrison in hospital

During National Transplant Week (7-13 July), Emma Harrison will be sharing the story of her son Oli who needed a new heart before he was five years old.

My three-day old baby is lying in hospital with a sign taped to his body saying ‘CHEST OPEN’. He’s wired up to drips and monitors.

It’s not what any new mum wants to go through. But this is where we found ourselves after our lovely little Oli was born with only half a functioning heart.

I was 36 and it was my first baby. I didn’t have long with him after he was born. He was taken down to special care and I was left wondering if he would survive. He had his first, life-saving op at just two days.

Just two months later he had a cardiac arrest. He just stopped breathing in my arms. They resuscitated Oliver but doctors told me he may not have long to live. He had an infection of the heart lining and he was very, very poorly.

Before he went into more emergency surgery we had to say goodbye to our baby. Oli had four major operations in his first 18 months to keep him alive.

Because of his severe heart problems Oli’s speech, learning and physical development were delayed. He never had a chance to do what normal babies do like rolling over and crawling because for his first 18 months he was a hospital patient.

There was nothing I could do. I couldn’t go and buy a heart – I couldn’t do anything to help him. Just wait.


He never crawled and his upper body was weak from all the surgery. So when he did start walking aged three he had a little walking frame. The way he walked up stairs was like an old man.

Despite the surgery Oli went downhill. By the time he was four he was living with severe heart failure. It’s hard to see your four-year-old too exhausted and breathless to walk up the stairs at the end of the day. Shortly before his fifth birthday Oli was put on the transplant list.

My worry was – how long could Oli plod on like this. And my biggest fear was - would Oli crash before he got a new heart?

There was nothing I could do. I couldn’t go and buy a heart – I couldn’t do anything to help him. Just wait.

It was all down to a donor family saying yes.