18 October 2022
Maëlie Saunal lives in Guernsey in the Channel Islands, but for the last four years has had to travel with her parents to Southampton Children’s Hospital for specialist treatment due to a heart condition. Mum, Corinne, and dad, Guillaume, have four children, Matéo (12), Maëlie (10), Anaëlle (8) and Céleste (6). Here’s their story.
“When Maëlie was around six years old, we noticed that she was having episodes where her heart would beat very fast, almost like it was pounding out of her chest,” explains Corinne.
“What was strange was that this was happening at unexpected times, such as watching a film, or even when sleeping.
We saw a paediatrician in Guernsey who diagnosed Maëlie with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, which is caused by an extra electrical connection in the heart that causes it to beat abnormally fast for periods of time.
It was a stressful and emotional time for us as a family.
We had a couple of overnight stays in hospital as she was having regular episodes. I never knew how long these would last, or if we would be able to get them to stop at all.
Her school were shown how to deal with the episodes and would time them and let us know, whilst Maëlie became used to lying on her back and performing the valsalver manoeuvre to try to stop the episodes. Medication helped to manage the symptoms.
Then during lockdown 2020, Maëlie’s symptoms seemed to worsen.
We decided with the doctors that the best way forward would be to book her in for an ablation. This is where the accessory pathway, which was causing the episodes, would be burnt away forcing her heart to use the correct pathway and, hopefully, cure the condition.
Maëlie was flown to Ocean Ward, which is the specialist children’s cardiac unit at Southampton Children’s Hospital for her ablation operation.
The doctors and nurses were so welcoming and had such a lovely manner with her. Although everyone was dressed in PPE with masks covering their faces, the staff still managed to reassure Maëlie and show us their smiles!
Maëlie’s ablation was a success but due to an unforeseen complication during the procedure, Maëlie had to stay in hospital longer than expected. She spent her first night post-ablation on the High Dependency Unit, then moved to Ocean Ward.
Her surgeon, Dr Shankar, genuinely cared about Maëlie, and I was very grateful for the time he took to patiently go through everything with me and answer any questions.
The nurses and other staff were all so lovely. They clearly have amazing bonds with the children in their care, particularly those who are more regular patients.
Now fully recovered with just some outpatient check-ups, Maëlie was really inspired by her experience, and also by meeting other children who were receiving treatment on the ward. Ever since, she has been adamant that she would like to become a cardiologist herself one day!”
Giving back to the hospital
“During May half term, we were on the beach in Guernsey and Maëlie noticed that a group of people had left a large amount of rubbish on the beach.
She was really upset about this and decided to clean it up. Her and her sister, Anaëlle, then had the idea that they could organise a beach clean each day of the half term and raise money for charity.
Maëlie’s choice was to raise money for the Ocean Ward through Southampton Hospitals Charity, so that they could continue help children like herself and the lovely friends she met while she was there.”