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Page last updated at 10:00 GMT, Tuesday, 22 March 2011

School investigates heart unit closures

Threatened heart centre 'saved my life'

By Tamsyn Kent
BBC News School Report

The corridors are bustling with students when I visit Hounsdown School. It is the start of the day, the bell has just gone and, amidst the noise, everyone is rushing to class. It is something most pupils take for granted, but not Adele.

The heart unit's changed my life, but it's also saved my life a couple of times. It makes you feel like you're very safe there
Adele, 15

She is 15 and last year she had a heart attack during one of her lessons. She was given CPR by two teachers who managed to keep her alive until the air ambulance and paramedics came.

She was rushed to Southampton General Hospital and at their specialist child heart unit she was given a pacemaker and defibrillator to stop her heart going too fast or stopping.

Adele is still recovering and trying to get back to school part-time.

"I've got a heart condition which I've had for a long time called Addison's Oil Syndrome which is a very rare condition which only one in a million people have," she said.

Moving story

This is the story that Adele's fellow students wanted help from me and cameraman Chris to tell.

It is hard not to be moved by Adele's situation, but there was something more the group of Year 8s wanted to investigate. Adele has been going to the heart unit since she was small, but now it faces closure.

The centre at Southampton General Hospital is part of a national review that recommends creating fewer but more specialist units. After being named the second best performing unit in the country, the news has come as a shock to many people.

Students interview a nurse
Students interview a nurse at the unit

The NHS national review has come up with four options for the future of child heart surgery units.

Three of the four recommendations involve closing the one in Southampton.

The students began their investigation by setting up their interviews.

They planned to use Adele as a case study to highlight what the issue means for people who use the unit. They also wanted to interview Adele's mum, Marjory, who feels strongly that the unit should not close.

"Adele has been going to the unit for over nine years now and has built up a fantastic rapport with all the staff," she said.

"A lot of people think it's just about travelling and being close to a unit, it's not that. Every parent wants the best for their child and we feel that the unit at Southampton offers fantastic care, it's a centre of excellence."

We also chatted about the importance of filming in the unit and speaking to someone there who can tell us about the work it carries out. Nurse Colette Cochran agreed to be part of the film.

The team record their final link
The BBC School Reporters at Hounsdown

It was also decided that the school would approach the Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley, about the reasons behind the shake-up of child heart surgery in England.

The report argues that if operations were confined to fewer, bigger units then standards and safety would be improved.

Our base for the day was the school library where we could chat through who was going to do what. Ben and Keisha volunteered to be radio reporters, while Emily and Max wanted to be television reporters.

Harry directed the filming, while Brandon, Ollie and Callum took charge of the technical side of things.

Cameraman Chris was delighted to have one of the biggest crews he had ever had with a boom operator, someone to hold the reflector and one student to check everything was all right by watching the monitor.

Sensitive issue

Although Adele is used to talking about her condition, she had never done a television or radio interview.

So the team talked about the best way to ask Adele questions in a sensitive manner, while at the same time making sure they got the full story.

They decided they really needed to hear exactly what happened to her the day she collapsed and what the hospital unit means to her.

Adele's interview
Charlotte: "Please can you tell us about your condition and what happened that day in school?"
Adele: "I've got a heart condition which I've had for a long time... I was waiting outside my lesson and collapsed, my heart went so fast that it stopped and I went into cardiac arrest."
Charlotte: "How has it affected your daily life?"
Adele: "It means I can't do as much as I used to do, I get tired very quickly."
Charlotte: "How do you feel about the possible closure of the unit?"
Adele: "The unit's changed my life, but it's also saved my life a couple of times. It makes you feel like you're very safe there... I feel really sad because it's done so much for me. I'm so grateful to them for all they've done."

The team also discussed how to approach filming at the hospital without intruding on families there.

The unit cares for children and young people, many of whom need surgery and some stay in the centre for six months or longer.

Although the unit seemed busy to us with babies crying and parents trying to keep fussing toddlers amused, staff told our reporters that it was relatively quiet.

We filmed on one of the wards and the TV and radio teams managed to get sound effects and cutaways for their pieces. The students found out that in 2010, 404 heart operations were carried out in Southampton.

Keisha came up with the idea of filming a graphic to illustrate this on the back of some medical notes at the end of one of the empty beds.

Nurse Colette agreed and also allowed us to film Adele having her blood pressure taken and some of the high-tech monitors in the ward.

After that, it was back to school, to record scripts. At the end of the day we decided to finish filming with a shot of the whole production team.

They stood on the school steps and shouted: "This is Hounsdown School reporting for BBC News School Report."


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