AFTER being told he’d have weeks to live, the family of a Newport tot have spoken of their relief after their son made a remarkable recovery from a rare heart condition which evaded doctors’ diagnosis for two years.
Three-year-old Ben Campling, of Malpas, was just a baby when in November 2010 he became ill and grey-looking, screaming with pain from lung and stomach troubles which, unbeknown to his parents and doctors, all stemmed from a rare heart condition called cor-triatrium.
While doctors scanned Ben’s stomach and lungs and found nothing wrong, a membrane had grown over the left hand side of his heart, causing the right hand side to work harder and become enlarged.
This caused problems throughout the little boy’s body and he spent up to 12 hours a day lying on the floor, in his mum’s lap or being read to by his grandmother as he was too tired to move or play.
“He was very lethargic and didn’t drink,” said mum Helen Campling, 33, who along with husband Andy, 39, kept diaries about everything Ben ate and how he reacted, to try and narrow down the cause of his illness.
“His lips were always a funny colour and I could feel his heart racing. Doctors said he had a virus. I would wonder, why aren’t they listening? You start thinking, am I being paranoid?”
After two years of repeated visits to doctors and the hospital, Mr Campling was home with Ben one day when he noticed his son was very thin, “a bag of bones”, he said.
The pair took Ben back to the doctor’s and described how the doctor’s face turned ashen. They were told: “Pack a bag and go to the hospital, there’s something really wrong here.”
At Newport’s Royal Gwent Hospital, Ben’s heart was scanned by a paediatrician with a specialism in cardiology – revealing the membrane which had been stifling growth in the left side of his young heart.
“He had a couple of weeks left, he wouldn’t have lasted until Christmas,” said Mrs Campling.
Ben was rushed to Cardiff’s Heath Hospital where his parents were told he’d have to go to Bristol, Birmingham or Great Ormond Street Hospital, and that it could be six weeks until the operation, which is usually performed when a child is a year old.
In fact the surgeons wanted to operate that week and the family went to Bristol Children’s Hospital, where Mr and Mrs Campling were able to stay at the Ronald McDonald house nearby, a facility they describe as a “godsend”.
At the end of August 2012, aged two, Ben underwent surgery and spent two days in intensive care.
“When he was woken up he was so hungry he ate an adult portion of shepherd’s pie,” said Mr Campling. “Later he ate nine pieces of toast. Within weeks he was stronger and stronger.”
Having undergone hundreds of tests and scans in his young life, Ben will not need another operation. He now attends nursery, goes swimming and dreams of becoming a fireman.
“He was incredibly brave,” said his mum. “We are very proud of Ben.”
The family, who are long-time members of Forresters Car Club in Cwmbran, helped the club to raise more than £2,300 for Bristol Children’s Hospital Wallace and Gromit appeal last year, when the club chose them as charity of the year because of Ben. The family helped sell rally tickets and organise quiz nights to raise cash.