Meet the patients: Kingsley Tofts

Kingsley Tofts

Heart op patient Kingsley defies the odds

Seventy-three continuous days in hospital would be hard to imagine for most. But not for 32-year-old Kingsley Tofts, who has spent much of his life travelling to and from Southampton General Hospital for numerous heart and spine operations - as well as hundreds of tests and appointments. 

Born with a narrowing in his main artery, the aorta, and only one ventricle instead of two to pump blood around his body, he needed emergency heart surgery in 1983 at just five weeks old.

By the age of five, Kingsley, of Basingstoke, needed complex open heart surgery, known as the Fontan procedure, to help his heart deliver oxygenated blood.

In addition to a further two cardiac operations, he also developed severe curvature of the spine which required the insertion of two metal rods in his back.

One of the heart procedures, carried out in 1999 when Kingsley was 16, involved a complete revision of his original Fontan surgery as it had begun to cause attacks of tachycardia, which meant his heart rate raced to nearly 200 beats a minute.

During the high-risk operation, which took surgeons all day to complete, another team of experts led by Professor John Morgan, a consultant electrophysiologist, corrected his heart rhythm abnormalities using a pioneering balloon mapping system.

This £130,000 device, donated by the charity Wessex Heartbeat, allowed Prof Morgan to pinpoint the source of the abnormal electrical pathways in Kingsley’s heart and eradicate them by freezing these problematic areas to minus 60 degrees C.

“Kingsley is one in a million,” said his mum Suzanne, 51, who ran a mini-bus company in Basingstoke before becoming her son’s full-time carer this year.

“He is a fearless, determined individual and to battle on through everything he has is simply remarkable”.

“To say we have been through a journey would be a complete understatement – it has been a rollercoaster from the very start.”

And it showed no signs of stopping in January, when Kingsley was admitted with life-threatening complications from a bulge in his aorta, known as a thoracic aortic aneurysm.

His main artery had started to tear and cause internal bleeding that had entered his lungs.

During emergency surgery, the bulge in Kingsley’s aorta had to be surgically removed and replaced by a plastic tube.

“Although people would imagine that I’d be used to life in hospital and operations, it’s never like that,” explained Suzanne.

“This was the start of another nightmare, particularly as it was made clear from the outset that Kingsley was in a life-threatening condition.”

Even after surgery he remained on the cardiac intensive care unit for 60 days – but Suzanne was comforted by the support of staff members.

“We really didn’t know if Kingsley would pull through the operation as it was something we didn’t know a lot about,” she said.

“After he did, we then had to contend with a long stay on the intensive care unit which we knew would have ups and downs.

“But the staff – and we have come across hundreds during our time here – are true heroes, they are amazing.”

After coming off of ventilation in early March, Kingsley began light physiotherapy and began eating and drinking normally.

Suzanne, a grandmother-of-seven, has been by her son’s bedside throughout his hospital admissions and has kept a daily diary of her visits.

And there is one man apart from Kingsley who appears more than any other – consultant congenital cardiologist Dr Tony Salmon.

“Dr Salmon has been part of Kingsley’s life since he was a young child and he has been like a rock to everyone,” she said.

“He tells it as it is, but he is always there for us at any time of the day or night and he’s always been keen to push the boundaries for Kingsley.”

Fittingly, after 73 days, he was discharged on 11 April – Dr Salmon’s birthday.

Suzanne said: “It was fitting for Kingsley as Dr Salmon means the world to him – Kingsley wouldn’t be prepared to go anywhere else for treatment.

“To him, it is Dr Salmon, his colleague Dr Sam Fitzsimmons and the team at Southampton General Hospital or nowhere as far as he’s concerned.

“Kingsley has really defied belief, which is down to a combination of his own resolve and the treatment and care he’s received here over 31 years.”

“Kingsley is a remarkable young man,” said Dr Salmon. “He has endured so many operations and illnesses which is impossible for most of us to imagine.

“I know that it is his strength and determination that has helped him through so many operations and life-threatening complications.

“Seeing Kingsley in clinic is such a satisfying part of my job as he is always so good-humoured and has such a positive attitude. He is a lesson to us all.”

Despite yet more life-saving surgery, Kingsley’s mind was on only one thing ahead of his return home.

He said: “Operations seem normal to me, so I just look to get back to myself as quickly as possible – and think of what it will be like to get home for a beer and a curry!”

He is now enjoying his home comforts once again, although it wasn’t plain sailing as he found himself back in hospital last month – five months after being discharged from his 73-day stint for a procedure to remove gallstones.

“What can I say?” said Suzanne. “Five months had passed so we obviously needed to see the team again – withdrawal symptoms!”

“Kingsley is now resting up at home and is as grateful as ever for the continued care and support from everyone in the adult congenital heart disease team in Southampton.”