Northern Ireland

Woman meets surgeon who saved her life with pioneering operation

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Media captionAmy Patterson and her family met the surgeon who carried out the pioneering operation that saved her, as BBC News NI's Keiron Tourish reports

A young woman who was "sent home to die" as a baby has met the surgeon who saved her life.

Amy Patterson, 21, was 18 months old when staff at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast told her parents a tumour on her spine was incurable.

But they later discovered a surgeon at Birmingham Children's Hospital who agreed to carry out a pioneering operation.

And 20 years on, doctor and patient have come face-to-face.

After a short stay at the Royal as a toddler, Amy was taken back to her home in Limavady, County Londonderry.

Image copyright Family
Image caption Amy was 18 months old when her parents were told her tumour was incurable

She was in so much pain that she could not bear to be touched, she had lost her mobility and would spend days and nights squealing in pain.

But her mother Hazel refused to give up.


Hazel, who was pregnant with Amy's sister Hannah at the time, contacted Birmingham Children's Hospital where the family were invited for a consultation with Dr Gerry O'Reilly and his mentor Dr Tony Hockley.

The team agreed to perform the pioneering surgery that saved Amy's life.

Now Amy, who is a student at Ulster University, and her family have met with Dr O'Reilly to thank him in person for the operation that saved her life.

Image caption Amy, now a student at Ulster University, was reunited with Dr O'Reilly this week

The reunion took place at the family's home in Limavady, where Dr O'Reilly threw his arms around Amy, who he had not seen for almost 20 years.

"Saving Amy was one of the highlights of my career," he told the BBC.

"Paediatric neurosurgery is a job with tremendous highs, but also tremendous lows.

"To see a child who wasn't expected to live do so well and to meet her again today is surreal."


He said Amy's tumour, which was on her spine and neck, was very much "in the clockwork" and any attempt to access it could have caused serious damage.

Image caption Dr Gerry O'Reilly and his mentor Dr Tony Hockley performed the operation that made newspaper headlines at the time

Hazel said: "We didn't know if the team in Birmingham would be able to help us and they made us no promises, but speaking to them gave us hope for the first time that Amy might survive.

Hazel said Dr O'Reilly and Dr Hockley, who has since died, gave her daughter the gift of life.

She said: "We prayed for a miracle and a miracle happened."

Amy, who does not remember the operation, said it was lovely to finally meet Dr O'Reilly.

"I'm just so lucky to be here today," she said.

"I can't put into words what he did for us, especially my mum and dad who had to go through it all."

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