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'Why I back the surgeons'
Michelle Cummings
Michelle Cummings staunchly backs the surgeons
Michelle Cummings' daughter Charlotte died after an operation carried out by James Wisheart - but she steadfastly supports him.

And she says the attacks on him and the other Bristol doctors have caused far more harm than good to parents grieving for their lost children.

"To then be told that your children should not really be dead, had somebody else operated on her, had she be sent somewhere else is the most wicked, most cruel thing you can say to somebody.

"How they have been able to get away it is unbelievable. I will personally never forgive them for the torment they have caused us.

"They've left us nothing. Most of our memories of her short life are based around that hospital, the people in that hospital, the people that cared for her."

Wisheart at inquiry
James Wisheart operated on Michelle's daughter
Michelle helped set up the Bristol Surgeons' Support Group, calling on former patients and parents for help.

"To label these men as responsible for the deaths of these children is wrong, and it's totally unjust that they should have their good names and characters dragged through any more muck."

A beaming picture of Charlotte Cummings still sits in Michelle's living room.

"There isn't a day when I don't wonder what she would have been like if she had survived - she would have been nearly 14 now."

Instead, however, the toddler died at the age of two at Bristol Royal Infirmary.

She had been born with a combination of serious heart defects in an age when surgery to correct them was in its infancy.

The main arteries supplying Charlotte's heart were transposed - connected to the wrong chambers and pumping her blood in the wrong direction.

The only thing keeping her alive was another, massive hole in the heart which allowed some kind of circulation of oxygenated blood.

Family connection

At 18 months old, she was listed for surgery with James Wisheart, whose calm and considerate manner impressed Michelle.

Her confidence in the surgeon was increased by the fact that her husband, Robert, had had his heart defect successfully corrected by him almost 10 years previously.

She said: "He made you feel that your child was the most important thing and that he was going to do everything possible to help her."

The operation appeared to have gone well, but quickly Charlotte started to go downhill again.

"She was beginning to have sweats again, go blue, vomiting on and off. By the time we got to Christmas it was clear she was deteriorating very fast."


He made you feel that your child was the most important thing and that he was going to do everything possible to help her

Michelle Cummings about James Wisheart
Eventually, she was rushed back to hospital - either the new blood vessels, or the heart valve crafted by James Wisheart were starting to fail.

Either way, Michelle was now convinced that there was little that could, or should be done.

A transplant was ruled out on the grounds that the toddler was by now too weak to survive the operation.

"I think I'd already come to terms with the fact she was going to die. I'm pretty much a realist.

"I did not think it was right to carry on subjecting her to this test or that test purely because I didn't want her to die.

Letting go

"I think you know when a child's had enough and you have got to let them go. And I knew she had had enough."

As he heart slowly failed, doctors even tried an experimental adult heart drug to keep her alive, but to no avail.

She died just short of her second birthday.

More than a decade later, the news of the investigation into the surgeons came as a shock, but her instinct was to defend them, rather than question the skills of James Wisheart.


The message now being given is that any mortality is unacceptable practice

Michelle Cummings
She wrote him a letter of support, and, as the pressure mounted, formed the support group to counterbalance the highly vocal parents of the Bristol Heart Babies Action Group.

She believes that while the NHS has made improvements over recent years, it is wrong to judge the doctors of yesterday by modern standards.

"If this is about revising the health service and updating practice that's fair enough.

"It's totally wrong to judge practice of 10 or 15 years ago on what our needs and requirements are in 2001.

"The message now being given is that any mortality is unacceptable practice."

And the inevitable consequence will be doctors who are unprepared to take on risky cases, she says.

"What surgeon is going to put themselves in a position that after 20 or 30 years of service, of being treated in the same way as James Wisheart or Janardan Dhasmana?"

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Michelle Cummings talks to BBC News Online
"What happened to my daughter"
Michelle Cummings talks to BBC News Online
"The surgeons have been betrayed"
Full coverage of the Bristol heart babies inquiry report

Government response

Key stories

Key figures

Parents' stories

Background briefing

Analysis

Bristol year by year
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