HeartSWell has a very special meaning for us, as it was in February 1993, that Monica Pearce, its founder, met us in Dingles and, over a coffee, shared with us her vision of a cardiac surgery unit for Derriford and a lodge nearby for relatives. 

Monica had been to the Royal London ten months previously for open heart surgery, Des only three months before.  I’d stayed for almost two weeks in James Hora, the house for relatives within the grounds of the hospital.  The whole experience had left an incredible impression on us and, without any doubt, everyone else from our region who’d been there. 

Alongside the life-transforming skills of Mr Terence Lewis and the cardiac surgery teams came the ordeal of getting to and from the hospital.  Most forms of travel meant vulnerable patients having to contend with bags, steps, crowds and jostling from fellow passengers before being thrust into the ceaseless hustle and bustle of the East End – a sharp contrast to the one they’d left behind where daily life moved at a far more leisurely tempo.  

After discharge, whilst still very weak from the trauma of the surgery – and anxious lest any sudden jolt put the surgeon’s work in jeopardy – they had to face the same hazards on the return journey. 

Our experience differed from that of most patients in that Des’ need for a triple bypass became so urgent that he was rushed to the hospital by ambulance – with me following behind on the next train, desperately willing him to survive the 200 miles. 

More drama was to come! The taxi to take us to Paddington for the journey home never arrived.  Due to a bomb going off, police had banned the movement of all traffic for at least 24 hours, leaving us stranded in the foyer of The Royal London. 

Stressful didn’t even begin to describe all this toing and froing to London for surgery.  For many it was an utter nightmare.  This raised the question why this was even necessary.  Patients from our region deserved their own Cardiac Surgery Unit at Derriford, a Centre of Excellence staffed by surgeons like Mr Terence Lewis, plus a Lodge nearby for relatives.  However, unless a campaign was mounted this dream would never become a reality. 

 Ideally suited to the role of campaign leader Monica set out to win community support.  We, like several other former patients, were only too willing to help by persuading family, friends and neighbours to sign petition forms, writing letters to our MPs, the PM and, most importantly, the local Press, explaining how vital it was for Derriford to have its own CSU.  As awareness of the campaign grew more and more people added their names to the petition. 

On March 22nd, 1994 Monica and her delegation arrived at No 10 to present a 195,000-signature petition to the Prime Minister.  In May ’94, after a debate in the House of Commons, came the news we’d all been waiting for.  Derriford had been granted its own Cardiac Unit.  This was opened in 1997, by Mr Terence Lewis, after whom the building is named.  Thanks to the tireless efforts of Monica Pearce, and her supporters, hearts patients would no longer have to face the ordeal of travelling to and from London.  Now all remained was to raise £1,000,000 for the Lodge!  

Clubs, societies, business people and numerous organisations, big and small, held fundraising events until, gradually, this total was reached.  It was quite some occasion when, in 2001, Judi Spiers performed the topping-out ceremony at the Lodge, perched nervously on a ladder and entertaining us all with her quips. 

First the Cardiac Unit at Derriford and now HeartSWell Lodge.  What a tour de force for a retired Headteacher who inspired the whole community to make life so much better for heart patients and their relatives. 


Shirley and Des Gray September 2018