Joy for Norwich couple as heart procedure gets funding go-ahead

A Norwich man has won his battle to get NHS funding for a heart procedure which offers him his only chance of getting better.

For Norman Sandell, each breath is a struggle because of his leaking heart valve.

Heart specialists told him his only hope of improvement was to have a MitraClip device fitted, but it needed special approval and he was initially refused funding by NHS Norfolk.

However, following an appeal, the 72-year-old has now been told he will be able to undergo the procedure, which is far less invasive than open heart surgery and uses a catheter to thread a MitraClip through a major artery into the heart to clamp the leak.

The news means that in addition to improving blood flow through the heart, the procedure may also relieve symptoms such as fatigue and shortness of breath.

It was only earlier this month that the Evening News told of Mr Sandell's fight for funding, but already his condition has deteriorated to the point where he is struggling to talk because he is so short of breath.

Mr Sandell, who used to work as a press operator making cans at a premises in Salhouse Road, said: 'I'm struggling at the moment. I'm fighting in the mornings to get up and to try to wash and to get dressed. I'm fighting for every breath.

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'I'm very pleased and over the moon at the news. I'm glad I'm getting it done.'

Mr Sandell's partner of more than 30 years, Rosemary Allman, 72, said: 'It's brilliant news and we're so thankful to everyone who has helped and to the Evening News.

'We were up at the hospital on Thursday afternoon and the consultant said how out of breath he was. He had to keep stopping because he couldn't get his breath.

'We're so pleased, but I'm just hoping they haven't left it that late.

'I'm very relieved because you can see a change each day and a difference in how short of breath he is.'

Mr Sandell, of Wycliffe Road, near Eaton Park, had a triple heart bypass 11 years ago at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, and he made a remarkable recovery and went on to lead a very active life, often cycling to Cromer or Great Yarmouth.

But two and a half years ago he became ill again and after being eventually referred to Hammersmith Hospital, the consultant there said in December last year he would be willing to carry out the MitraClip procedure, and that he wanted to do so in February this year.

However, it took NHS Norfolk months to respond and it was only at the end of May that Mr Sandell found out he would be refused the treatment.

The Primary Care Trust had initially said there was a lack of evidence of clinical and cost effectiveness, and of long-term clinical outcome, but Mr Sandell's consultant remained convinced it would help him and successfully appealed against the decision.

Hollywood screen star Elizabeth Taylor was the first public figure to have a MitraClip implanted to reverse the symptoms and damaging effects of severe mitral regurgitation.

The couple have had the help and support of Labour Norwich City Councillor Bert Bremner, Labour East of England MEP Richard Howitt and Liberal Democrat Norwich North MP Simon Wright.

Mr Bremner, who represents the University ward, said: 'They are a lovely couple and it has been really worrying for them so hopefully it can now be done quickly and can bring Norman's life back to some sort of quality.

'I was amazed at how long NHS Norfolk took to even look at their case, when it really needed to be a fast job.'

Mr Wright, who wrote to the PCT on Mr Sandell's behalf, said: 'I'm absolutely delighted that following the appeal he has been successful in winning funding. His consultant said last year this was the best chance or only chance or improving his quality of life and his current condition.'

Do you have a story about your health condition? Contact reporter Kim Briscoe on 01603 772419 or email