Norwich man marks 60th anniversary of pioneering heart surgery

Donald Cox marks 60 years since the first open heart surgery at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.

Donald Cox marks 60 years since the first open heart surgery at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. Picture: NEIL DIDSBURY - Credit: NEIL DIDSBURY

A Norwich man who was not expected to see adulthood due to a hole in his heart has looked back on the pioneering surgery that gave him a "full life" 60 years ago.

Donald Cox, from Mile Cross, was born in West Norfolk Hospital in 1950 with a heart defect, which was found when he was around eight.

The Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, dated 4th of February, 1971. Picture: Archant Library

The Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, dated 4th of February, 1971. Picture: Archant Library - Credit: Archant

Aged 10 he became the first person in Norwich to have open heart surgery at the former Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital site, in St Stephen's Road, in July 1961.

The first procedure of its kind in the UK was performed at the Royal Papworth Hospital, in Cambridge, in 1958.

Without it, Mr Cox's life expectancy was his late teens. 

Donald Cox marks 60 years since the first open heart surgery at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. Pi

Donald Cox marks 60 years since the first open heart surgery at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. Picture shows him at 10-years-old when he had his surgery. Picture: NEIL DIDSBURY - Credit: NEIL DIDSBURY

Mr Cox, who grew up in Tuckswood, said: "It was quite advanced surgery. In them days young people would have to have gone to Great Ormond Street, I was told I was the first one to be done in Norwich. 


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"They waited until I was 10 because I would have grown a bit more and it would make it a bit easier to do. 

"They used to look at your heart by pushing two plates really hard in them days against you." 

Health care. Pictured: X ray session at Norwich hospital. Date: July 1957. Picture: EDP Library

Health care. Pictured: X ray session at Norwich hospital. Date: July 1957. Picture: EDP Library - Credit: Archant

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An inpatient on ward seven, Mr Cox does not recall the day but said staff put him in a tin bath to cool his core temperature ready for the procedure. 

The success of the surgery means the now 70-year-old has lived a "full life", including working as a shoe supervisor at the former Norvic Shoes factory and supporting disabled youngsters in Norfolk.

Mr Cox said: "I wasn't allowed to do sport. Being a child you wanted to run about but when you have a heart defect your life is a little bit different. Teachers told me not to run in the playground."

Donald Cox marks 60 years since the first open heart surgery at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. Pi

Donald Cox marks 60 years since the first open heart surgery at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. Pictured with his wife Pearl. Picture: NEIL DIDSBURY - Credit: NEIL DIDSBURY

The memory and the scar still remain, but Mr Cox was able to resume his life, and within 12 months was able to go Caister Holiday Camp where he would meet his future wife Pearl.

They became friends and he asked her out on her 16th birthday and will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary next year after getting married in St Lukes Church, on Aylsham Road, in 1972, with a Scout guard of honour.

Norwich hospital. Pictured: N&N Emergency op theatre no 1. Date: 16 jul 1971

Norwich hospital. Pictured: N&N Emergency op theatre no 1. Date: 16 jul 1971 - Credit: Archant

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