Fleetwood gran battles new health fears two years after groundbreaking op

Fleetwood grandmother Linda Edwards is one of only a handful of people in the world to have had her ribcage replaced with a titanium sternum implant after undergoing a space age operation.

Wednesday, 21st July 2021, 9:07 am
Linda Edwards had a pioneering titanium implant operation two years ago

Fleetwood grandmother Linda Edwards is one of only a handful of people in the world to have had her ribcage replaced with a titanium sternum implant after undergoing a space age operation.

Linda , a mental health support worker at The Harbour in Blackpool, underwent a ribcage replacement procedure in August 2019, having a 3-D printed titanium sternum implant fitted by a team of specialists at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.

She was only the third woman in the world, and the fifth person, to undergo such an operation.

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Amazing image of Linda's damaged ribcage before the transplant in 2019

The pioneering procedure was a success - but two years on from the operation, Linda has had to prove tenacious after experiencing a string of complications since having the implant.

Linda, 54, of Warrenhurst Road, feared at one stage that doctors would have no choice but to remove the implant over a risk that it had become infected - but thankfully it was only the outer covering that was affected, a big enough problem in itself.

The mum-of-three had the 'bionic' implant in the first place after previous heart surgery left her with a split ribcage which was literally swinging about, but the groundbreaking procedure has not been the end of her health problems.

Linda said: "The latest problem meant that the rubbery, outer coating of the implant had to be removed because of an infection.

The 3D Titanium implant

"I was in a bad way at the time.

"So in order to provide a covering for the bare metal, they had to pull up my stomach muscles and that led to complications.

"My worst fear was that the implant itself had become infected, which might have meant it needed to be removed and I may not have survived that.

"The implant procedure was amazing, the team in Birmingham are excellent and have been really helpful to me.

"But I've just been unlucky with the infections."

The health problems have impacted on her own mental health, something of an irony given that she works as a mental health support worker.

But she said: "My employers at The Harbour have been really helpful and without them I would not have been able to get through it.

"They allowed me the time off for the implant operation itself, for my recovery and for all the times I've been ill with infections over the past year."

Despite the setbacks, Linda says she is proud to have bee only the fifth person in the world, at that point, to have the implant procedure, which was carried out on the NHS by a team of top surgeons.

They included Mr Ehab Bishay, consultant thoracic surgeon at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB), and a cardiac team led by Mr Stephen Rooney.

The cardiac team, led by Mr Stephen Rooney, had to re-open Linda’s chest carefully, avoiding her heart and previous bypass grafts.

Mr Ehab said at the time: "My team and I then removed Mrs Edward’s original breastbone and inserted the custom built prosthesis.

"The plastic surgery team, led by Mr Haitham Khalil, harvested several muscle flaps to cover all the extensive components of the prosthesis, a fundamental step in this operation.

"Fortunately, complications such as those experienced by Mrs Edward’s following previous heart surgery are rare, but are notoriously difficult to manage."

Titanium is a lightweight alloy usually used in the aircraft industry and it is incredibly strong - but now its uses wouldn’t be out of place in a Marvel comic.

After recovering from the operation, Linda ended up setting up a Facebook group - the Sternotomy/Sternectomy/Non Union Sternum/Mental Health/ Support Group.

It has proved a welcome sounding-off home for people from all over the world who have suffered complications from surgery, such as the problems Linda had which left her needing the implant in the first place.

Today the group has 165 members.

Linda said: "I feel the group's done a lot of good, it has even helped a few people who said they wanted to take their own lives because of the problems they were having.

"Five years ago I would never have thought any of this would have happened - people tell me I should write a book about it!"