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Charlotte's story

Meet Charlotte. A junior doctor currently working in New Zealand.

I was born at 33 weeks at Royal Bolton Hospital and taken straight to (old) St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester once I was diagnosed with OA/TOF. After two attempts at a simple repair, the surgeons gave me an oesophagostomy and gastrostomy. The oesophagostomy was reversed when the surgeons used a colonic interposition, because it was too difficult to join the two ends of my oesophagus to repair. 

I was just one year old. 

I was also born with cleft palate, a gap in the roof of my mouth. This, alongside my OA/TOF, meant I was fed through a gastrostomy until I was around three years old. 

My cleft palate has also meant I’ve had additional surgeries growing up and undergone speech therapy.

The biggest problem I have due to my OA/TOF is acid reflux, for which I take medication most days. This keeps it under control, but it does flare up (especially during night shifts) and this can make sleeping and exercise difficult. I’ve come to accept that some days I am limited by my symptoms, but I’m lucky that much of the time I am symptom free.

Due to extensive surgeries as a baby, I’ve also been left with scarring on my chest wall, neck, and stomach. I used to be embarrassed by this, but now learnt to have the confidence to wear outfits whether they show my scars or not. The nerve supply to one side of my voice box was also damaged during surgery, so this has compromised my voice slightly. 

However, due to lots of support from speech therapists, I’m a confident public speaker.

During childhood, my care was overseen by a fantastic paediatrician. This meant all my medical conditions were managed in one appointment and I was referred to various medical teams as needed. 

Transitioning to the adult services, however, has been challenging for several reasons. I have found adult services much more fragmented and it can be difficult for GPs to address my complex medical needs in short consultations. Despite this I feel very lucky for all the excellent support and treatment I’ve received in the community and by specialist hospital teams.

Moving abroad recently, has brought new challenges. While living in New Zealand without a long-term visa, I will need to self-fund all my ‘chronic’ medical care. This has only made me value the phenomenal National Health Service even more!

Having been treated in Manchester as a child, it was very special to study medicine in the very same hospitals. During medical school I used my patient experience to advocate at a local and national level for children’s voices in healthcare. This was through various organisations, such as the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the Greater Manchester Child Health and Wellbeing board.

Following my graduation, I was lucky to return to Royal Bolton hospital (where I was born) as a junior doctor. Mid way through my first year practicing as a doctor, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK. I worked on COVID wards, COVID ICU and eventually had the privilege of giving the vaccine to patients in the community. My first two years as a doctor were tougher than I ever imagined, and I was fortunate to have such a strong support network.

Following a placement in Auckland during medical school, I knew I wanted to return to New Zealand to work and explore further. I moved to Christchurch in August 2021 to work as junior doctors for the next few years. So far, I’ve enjoyed exploring the country through cycling, walking, and kayaking!

In the future, I’d like to pursue a career in anaesthetics and intensive care medicine in the UK. Having gone ‘under the knife,’ several times, I understand, the way the anaesthetist makes you feel before the surgery, can have a lasting impact. I hope through training in this field, I will get the opportunity to make the peri-operative experience as positive as possible for the patients I treat.

My story above wouldn’t have been possible without all the support I’ve received as I’ve grown up. I therefore want to take this opportunity to thank my Mum, Dad, Tom (my brother), my extended family, my friends and all the healthcare professionals who have helped get me to where I am today. Lastly, thank you to TOFS for allowing me to tell my story. 

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