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Pioneering vascular surgery at University Hospitals of North Midlands hands life back to 26-year-old Staffordshire clinical perfusionist

A Staffordshire clinical perfusionist is celebrating having her life back following pioneering vascular surgery at University Hospitals of North Midlands.

Sophie Walker, 26, of Uttoxeter, had been unwell with a number health issues, culminating in the need for vascular surgery for an awkwardly positioned artery aneurysm in August this year.  The position of the aneurysm was found to be rarely reported in literature so made surgical planning very difficult with concerns that the original procedure would have caused a major stroke. This meant that the re-planned surgery involved complex and risky grafting of her artery without compromising blood flow to her brain and is believed to a first in the UK.

Today her mother, Steph Walker, who works at Royal Stoke University Hospital as an Advanced Critical Care Practitioner, said: “To our knowledge, this operation has never been attempted before, with the expected outcome largely based on theory and expert opinions and we were informed that her risks of stroke, paraplegia and death were very high.”  

Mr Arun Pherwani, consultant vascular surgeon, who led the team which carried out the surgery following multiple multi-disciplinary team meetings with surgical teams at UHNM and across the country for advice.

He said: “This procedure was a very uncommon operation performed on someone so young. The only way to rectify Sophie’s condition was with this type of surgery, all options had been looked at carefully. The risks that came with this were serious and could have led to significant complications.

“It was a team effort from colleagues at the UHNM. The care that went into planning Sophie’s surgery and after was because of everyone at UHNM, from the multi-disciplinary surgical team, diagnostic and interventional radiology colleagues, anaesthetic colleagues, the theatre team in cardiac theatres, perfusion colleagues, our junior colleagues, ITU and pathology staff, pulled together to help Sophie and her family who are part of this organisation. We are fortunate we work at UHNM with very good, helpful and caring colleagues. We are a busy Trust, but we always strive to provide the best care for our patients.”

Mr Pherwani has now been recognised as a UHNM Hero after he was nominated by Steph and Sophie.

Steph said: “Mr Pherwani left no stone unturned. He also made himself available day and night to answer any of Sophie’s questions. She is a qualified perfusionist so understood all the fine details of the plans. There were no statistics he could provide us with regarding her risk of death, if we continued with the surgery or if it was left untreated. He had several ideas of what he could attempt should the initial plan be unsuccessful and I understand that due to the severity of the situation, there was total silence in theatre during the lengthy procedure. Bypass was prepared should it be needed in an emergency - something Sophie knew only too well. As a family we had been prepared for the worst which was heart-breaking and something I have only ever seen from the other side in my role as an ACCP in critical care.”  

Presenting Mr Pherwani with his award, Sophie, who previously worked at County Hospital, Stafford but now works at New Cross Hospital, Wolverhampton, said: “This presentation has given me the privilege of thanking the brave man that performed the surgery, my hero, Mr Pherwani. Without his unwavering commitment, skill and dedication to my case, I probably wouldn't be alive today. It was a truly pioneering surgery, the first of its kind, an extremely delicate and complex procedure that I'm sure not many vascular surgeons would be able to accomplish.

“Working in cardiac surgery myself, I was all too aware of the major challenges and risks involved in the surgery, and so was Mr Pherwani. However, I knew that if anyone could pull it off, it would be him. Mr Pherwani made himself available to me day and night, reassured me, and most of all you cared about me- a skill you cannot teach.

“I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me my life back and the lives of every single member of my family. Thank you, my hero, Mr Pherwani.”

Steph added: “I wanted to nominate Mr Pherwani for an award as a token of our gratitude and also as a testament to his extraordinary contributions to the field of medicine. I am convinced he will not want any praise for what he has achieved, as he simply said to us when he returned from theatre - "it's what we do". However, this is an outstanding achievement for both himself and the Trust that cannot go unrecognised. Not only is this surgery the first of its kind, it is also a huge success story. For me, this journey and experience of UHNM has made me extremely proud of the work we do and the team of professionals I work with.”