When Sian Healey was born, her mum Deb realised that something wasn’t quite right. She didn’t open her eyes, and didn’t cry like her older brother had.

By that night, doctors had transferred Sian out of Cairns to the Royal Children’s Hospital in Brisbane, and then onto Prince Charles Hospital.

Sian was diagnosed by doctors at Prince Charles with a congenital heart disease called tetralogy of fallot. This disease involves a number of abnormalities occurring in the heart, which leads to low blood oxygen levels.

At just six days old, Sian underwent an operation where a shunt was inserted in her heart to create an additional pathway for blood to travel. Her anxious parents waited nine weeks for Sian to be allowed to leave the hospital and travel home for the first time.

Only three months after her birth, Sian was back in Brisbane to have a cardiac catheter inserted when it was discovered that she would require a second operation. Doctors inserted another larger shunt to further increase blood flow. Fortunately this time Sian’s stay was limited to just over two weeks.

It was 17 months later when Sian first visited the Mater Children’s Hospital for a total surgical repair. She was admitted to the children’s cardiac ward.

The research Sian helped with

This is when Sian met the research team that the Preston James Fund supports in the PICU. Sian’s parents generously offered to allow Sian to help other children by participating in cardiac research.

This research is looking at ways of improving the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart. One day the team hopes to produce a life support machine which monitors this flow so that the team are able to maintain the desired balance. This would be a life-saving improvement for children.

Previous research that helped Sian

Sian also benefited from the team’s research as she was quickly moved from life support (through invasive ventilation) to high flow oxygen therapy. This means that high flow oxygen is gently delivered up the nose to provide support for Sian’s own breathing.

The benefit of this is that there is a decreased time needed on life support and therefore a reduced risk of lung injury. It was a lot more comfortable for her, and allowed her partents to nurse her in their arms.

And now?

Sian is still making trips to Brisbane and still faces some ongoing heart issues but her mum Deb said she is a very strong little girl and that the care provided to them is a great comfort.

Sian’s participation, and the help of other sick children, is vital to the research that the team at the PICU are undertaking as it will bring life-saving knowledge that will help other children in the future.