Published by BBC NEWS - 22nd March 2022

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A 20-year-old who proposed to his girlfriend as he was being prepared for transplant surgery has been given a second chance at life.

Brooklyn Peakman was on life support after 17 minutes with no oxygen to his brain after valve replacement surgery in December “didn’t go to plan”.

After a failed transplant attempt in February, Brooklyn, from Prestatyn, Denbighshire, now has a new heart.

His fiancée Ellie Spencer said there was “light at the end of the tunnel”.

“I feel like we struggled for so so long,” 18-year-old Ellie told BBC Radio Wales Breakfast.

“We’re all feeling amazing at the minute.”

Brooklyn is recovering from the 17-hour operation at Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham last Thursday.

His mother Kelly Northall, 38, said after an agonising four-month wait on a heart bypass machine that was keeping him alive, Brooklyn was breathing on his own and has been given the nickname Paddy.

After his family teased him that he might not love his girlfriend after he got a new heart, Kelly said: “As he was going down to have the transplant, Brooklyn proposed to Ellie.”

She said yes.

Mum Kelly and Brooklyn in hospital bed

Image source, Kelly Northall

Brooklyn was born with a heart valve defect and had to undergo his first heart surgery at just 12 hours old.

Kelly said he was healthy for 19 years, pursuing his dream of becoming a professional goalkeeper, when last October his health suddenly “deteriorated”.

He was admitted to hospital after doctors found a severe leak in his aortic valve.

“He had to wait for eight-and-a-half weeks to have a full mechanical valve replacement,” Kelly said. “The routine operation didn’t go to plan.”

Kelly said one of his main arteries was cut during the surgery and Brooklyn suffered a major stroke and she faced the possibility of losing her son

“After he came out [of surgery], we were told there was no hope for Brooklyn,” she said.

“The damage of his heart was severe… [his] quality of life would be zero and we struggled for them to give him a heart transplant.”

Brooklyn in hospital bed

Image source, Kelly Northall

Brooklyn was in an induced coma for two weeks after surgery and doctors estimated his brain had been starved of oxygen for 17 minutes and he was not expected to recover.

Kelly said he was brought out of the coma on Christmas Eve, potentially to see his family for the last time.

“He turned his head and said, ‘I love you mum’.”

Over the next month, Brooklyn battled to recover from the stroke, which left him with no sensation in his arms, legs and entire left side.

“Brooklyn had to get stronger or they wouldn’t put him on the transplant list,” said Kelly.

She left her job as a shop worker to be at his bedside every day, telling the doctors, “he’ll prove it to you if you give him that chance”.

Brooklyn as a goal keeper before the operation

Image source, Kelly Northall

Kelly said the family spent the first three months of 2022 on a “rollercoaster,” as finding a suitable transplant heart for a young person is difficult.

“On his 20th birthday we had a phone call saying they had a heart for Brooklyn that was compatible,” Kelly said.

But four hours into his transplant surgery the operation has to be abandoned because the heart was deemed to be unsuitable.

“Brooklyn came out saying, ‘mum I survived’ and I had to tell him he hadn’t had the transplant.”

Kelly said her son became scared of having surgery again and told her wanted to stay on the heart machine keeping him alive for the rest of his life.

She said the relaxation of Covid restrictions in England in the middle of March allowed his grandparents, friends and teammates to visit, lifting his spirits.

Another suitable heart was found on the evening of 16 March and in the early hours the following morning he underwent his third heart surgery in four months.

Kelly said his new heart is “doing everything expected” and, after, four months on a heart machine, her son told her “it feels weird, I can feel my heart beating for the first time”.

Brooklyn still has a long journey ahead to recover, but Kelly said she was thankful to the family of the donor and to Ellie for standing by him.

“I hope soon I’ll be giving him away at his wedding,” Kelly said with a laugh.

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