Dad's 170-mile walk to thank hospital that saved his son

Thursday 30 August 2018

Cath, Tom and David Boyce

A father is walking 171 miles to raise money for the hospital that saved his teenage son’s life.

David Boyce, 51 from Claygate in Surrey, is going to walk the route his son Tom, 19, took by ambulance when he was transferred from University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff to receive life-saving treatment at St Thomas’ Hospital in London.

Tom’s family had been told to say their goodbyes to him because his heart and lungs were failing due to pneumonia which had led to sepsis.

As a last attempt to save him, the team in Cardiff contacted the specialist ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation) team at St Thomas’ Hospital. The treatment temporarily replaces the work of the lungs or heart in patients with severe lung or heart failure, similar to dialysis for kidney failure, allowing their organs to heal. An ECMO machine continuously takes blood from the body, adds oxygen, removes carbon dioxide and then returns it to the body.

Tom said: “Last October I was studying geology at Cardiff University and I remember feeling unwell before playing rugby. I was tired, out of breath and my heart was beating fast but I played anyway. The next morning I felt worse and went to the hospital in Cardiff. I was put in a wheelchair with an oxygen mask and that’s the last thing I remember until I woke up at St Thomas’.”

David, an IT consultant, and his wife Cath, 50, went to the hospital and were told that Tom’s life was in danger. David said: “We were told that an infection in his lungs had affected his heart and that Tom was as ill as he could be while still being alive. His heart and lungs were so weak that we were told he probably wouldn’t make it through the night. Along with our other sons Harry and William, we said goodbye to Tom. It was awful and every parent’s nightmare.”

The team in Cardiff had contacted the ECMO team and they arrived in the middle of the night, put Tom on the ECMO machine and brought him back to St Thomas’.

David said: “We hadn’t heard of ECMO before but the team explained how it worked and told us this was Tom’s only option. Once he was receiving the therapy we felt it was the first positive step – it’s symbolic for why I’m doing the walk. There was finally hope. Although his progress was gradual, within a day or two his heart was already working a bit better.”

Tom stayed on ECMO for nearly a week and was discharged a few weeks later. He was very weak and started a local cardiac rehabilitation therapy course which helped him to exercise safely again. He also received follow-up care at Guy’s and St Thomas’ to monitor his heart function.

Tom said: “I’m eternally grateful to the team at St Thomas’. I received unbelievable care - I couldn’t fault it. I’m about to restart my geology degree at Cardiff University and to look at me you wouldn’t think anything was wrong with me. My heart is working normally now and I don’t need another appointment until next year. The whole experience has made me value people more, especially my family, and I’ll miss them when I go back to university.”

David added: “Tom wouldn’t be alive without ECMO – sometimes I look at him and can’t believe he’s here. We’ve been through a lot as a family and it’s made us even stronger.”

David will walk up to 30 miles a day for six days to complete his ‘Road to Recovery’ challenge and raise money for the ECMO service at St Thomas’. Tom will join him for the first and last day of the walk.

He said: “I wanted to say thank you to the team and came up with the idea of the walk when Tom was in intensive care. We were overwhelmed by his wonderful care and felt very safe in the hands of the team. I would love to raise £10,000 to contribute to ECMO equipment, resources and training and hope this will help to save other peoples’ lives.

“I also want to promote healthy living and encourage people not to wait before seeking medical help if they are experiencing worrying symptoms. I am nervous about the walk because I’ve never done anything like this before but it will all be worth it. The last day of the walk will be my birthday which will be a great way to celebrate.”

Dr Nick Barrett, consultant in critical care at Guy’s and St Thomas’, said: “Seeing the difference ECMO can make to patients like Tom is what makes our jobs so rewarding and we are delighted. Patients suitable for ECMO are desperately sick and have reached the limits of conventional medical therapy. It is only thanks to the work of a big team – consisting of nurses, perfusionists, physiotherapists, dietitians and consultants – that we are able to use this pioneering technology to save lives.”

St Thomas’ is one of five hospitals to provide an ECMO service across the NHS. It is the largest ECMO centre in the UK, caring for more than 100 patients a year.  

David will embark on his walk from Saturday 8 September until Thursday 13 September. Find out how to donate to his challenge.

Guy’s and St Thomas’ Charity raises money for big things and small touches that make our life-saving care even better and help our patients and their families feel really looked after. Find out how you can fundraise for Guy’s and St Thomas’.

Last updated: August 2018

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