HE LOOKS like any other happy schoolboy celebrating his fifth birthday.
But it’s a moment Joel Bearder’s parents thought they would never see after the Linthwaite couple said goodbye to their tiny newborn as he was whisked away for life-saving heart surgery when he was just a few days old.
The youngster was born with a faulty valve in his heart, which was detected at Calderdale Royal Hospital as proud parents Gaynor and Antony prepared to take their baby son home.
Joel was rushed by ambulance to the children’s heart unit at Leeds General Infirmary where he underwent vital surgery the next day to save his life.
Now, five years on, his parents face another battle – to save the axed Leeds unit that helped Joel survive.
And, while they fight on against the decision, Joel awaits more open-heart surgery in the future to replace the valve as he grows.
Gaynor, who has campaigned tirelessly to save the Leeds children’s heart surgery unit, said: “It’s the day I didn’t dare dream of.
“He was so ill, I never even thought he would get to his first birthday, let alone his fifth.
“Although Joel still has his issues, he lives a relatively normal life. He is now stable on his medication and can keep up with all his friends.
“He is our little miracle and we’re overwhelmed to be celebrating his fifth birthday with him. It’s a dream come true.”
Leeds was among three centres axed after a major review of children’s heart surgery was carried out across England by the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts.
The decision came after a consultation – Safe and Sustainable – found Yorkshire’s young patients would be best served by units at Newcastle or Liverpool.
An appeal has now been launched by campaigners – backed by MPs – hoping to get the decision overturned.
Gaynor, who also has a nine-year-old son Lucas, said: “It is terrifying to think the unit might not be there for us when Joel needs his open heart surgery.
“We need to save that unit.
“Our children should not have to travel further for the lesser service that Newcastle offers.
“It doesn’t offer everything under one roof or have the network of services that Leeds has.
“It just doesn’t have the gold standard that Leeds has.
“All these families are not just campaigning because it is our local unit. They are fighting because it is a centre of excellence and our children deserve the best.”
For more information about the campaign to save the Leeds unit visit www.chsf.org.uk.