The Teacher with a Heart of Gold
More than 500 children from the island of Ireland receive care and treatment for heart conditions in CHI at Crumlin each year. Twenty eight years ago, Jennifer Caffrey from Tullamore in County Offaly had open heart surgery when she was just two weeks old in Crumlin. A newly qualified primary school teacher, Jennifer has achieved her life’s dream of entering the classroom. She and her mother Phil recently completed the VHI Women’s Mini Marathon to raise vital funds for our patients.
“I had open heart surgery as a baby, it was the transposition of the main coronary arteries. [This involves switching the positions of the pulmonary artery and the aorta. During surgery the pulmonary artery is connected to the left ventricle, and the aorta is connected to the right ventricle],” says Jennifer “it's a long time ago now. I was born with a condition and I came out coughing and spluttering. I didn't cry. I was born in Portlaoise in County Laois. Later that day I was rushed up to Crumlin and I had surgery at two weeks old.”
“It was a very stressful time, and my Dad blames me for being bald and grey now. I don't really think about it now but I expect when I have my own kids I will. My Mam always says it was probably the hardest time of her life but she was so grateful for Crumlin and everything they did. She says that the doctors, nurses and porters couldn't have been more supportive. On Sundays my surgeon used to go for a walk on his day off, and come into the hospital to check on me. I think that shows the dedication of the staff.
I had stents put in when I was older. [A stent is a tiny tube that is inserted into a blocked passageway in the heart to keep it open. The stent restores the flow of blood or other fluids, depending on where it's placed. Stents are made of either metal or plastic.] The final stent I got in was in Crumlin right before I turned 16, and they wanted to do it before I moved on. I think a few people thought I had my own child in there because I was so old at that point. The staff looked after me so well. I'm in the Mater hospital now as an outpatient and I'm monitored regularly. It's just about making sure that my heart is working properly and that the stents aren't closing over.
I did the VHI Women's Mini Marathon to support Crumlin, and I'm delighted to be able to do it. My Mam did it with me - she's walking and I'm running it. We went up and around Tullamore. I go to the gym four times a week. I do power lifting, and anything with weights I'm there! Looking at me and knowing me I don't think anyone would know that I have a heart condition. My next door neighbour has always said it to me that it never held me back in any shape or form. I know a few people who have had children who went to Crumlin for something wrong with their heart and they took great care of them. I think they take great solace seeing me live my life and seeing that you can get through it well.
This year teaching is my first qualified, and it's in the middle of a pandemic and a bit crazy. At the same time, I have just loved every second of it and I wouldn't change it for the world. Ever since I was little, I knew that I wanted to be a primary school teacher. It took me a long road to get here but I am here now. This week I was doing something with the senior infant’s class in Scoil Naomh Colmcille [Durrow National School] about what makes them special and different and I was telling them about my heart because obviously I have scars from it. I am proud of my scars and I don't try to hide them. It was lovely for the kids to see because there's one child who has a hearing aid and she was like 'I have a hearing aid! This makes me different and special.' It was just lovely and would melt your heart.”
Jennifer is a credit to her family, and there is no one more proud of her than her Mam Phil.
"I can't remember too far back but the nurses and doctors were so good. They kept me up to date. When we went in with her that night, I was in with her the next morning in Crumlin with her. Everything went well,” says Phil, “as parents all we could do was pray and hope that everything would turn out well. You just have to stick together and support each other to get through it. My daughter has never looked back from the time she had the surgery. She had constant care throughout all of the years. They always kept up to date with her with good check-ups.”
With your support we will continue to do #WhateverItTakes