Fragile Lives by Stephen Westaby

The Blurb On The Back:

Some patients will live.

Some patients will die.

But while their lives hang by a thread …

The heart surgeon will do everything he can to save them.

The day his grandfather died, Steve Westaby vowed to become a heart surgeon.

Today, as one of the world’s most eminent heart surgeons, Professor Steve Westaby shares the stories of the lives he has fought to save. 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Professor Stephen Westaby is one of the world’s foremost heart surgeons and a pioneer in the use of mechanical hearts and stem cell research in heart tissue repair and in this moving and fascinating medical memoir (illustrated by Dee McLean), he describes how his grandfather’s death and a TV documentary inspired him into the profession and sets out some of the cases that have had the biggest impact on him both professionally and emotionally.

I was interested to read of Westaby’s childhood on a Scunthorpe council estate and how the combination of his grandfather’s slow, lingering death from heart failure and the documentary YOUR LIFE IN THEIR HANDS inspired him towards medicine and you get a real sense of his hard work and determination as he took work in a hospital to try and get as much experience as he could prior to going to medical school.  I would have liked to get his take on education and whether he thinks that going to a grammar school aided his career trajectory but he doesn’t seem to be a man given to that kind of reflection, which is a shame because it would have equally been interesting to get his take on the current state of the profession – especially as he hints at his frustration with NHS funding and how a scarcity of both money and transplant resources means that those over 60 are often left with only palliative treatment for heart conditions that could be radically improved.

The best parts of the book for me are those involving the implant of mechanical hearts in patients who otherwise would have been terminal cases – particularly as I remember the news coverage of the first UK patient, Peter.  Although the language used by Westaby is necessarily quite technical, I could still follow his descriptions of how the devices work and the surgery to implant them but what he does really well is show how they transformed the quality of life of the recipients while still showing the negative emotional and psychological effects.  It is incredible to know that this technology exists and that it’s only money that stops it from being widely distributed and I really hope that this book helps to raise funds and awareness.

Although you don’t get as much of the man as you do his work, this is still a fascinating read and well worth a look.

FRAGILE LIVES was released in the United Kingdom on 9th February 2017.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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