A 13-year-old girl from the Welsh valleys will celebrate her first birthday next week. Hannah Clark was born years ago, but 20 February 2007 will mark the first anniversary of the day that she actually began to live her life.
She has spent most of her life in hospital, and simple things such as going to school and hanging out with friends are not taken for granted. For her, being normal is a novelty.
Hannah, from Mountain Ash, south Wales, hit the headlines a year ago, when she had a life-saving and medically unprecedented operation to reverse a heart transplant.
Hannah was first diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a life-threatening condition that caused her heart to be twice its normal size, when she was just 10 months, and at two years old she was one of the youngest people ever to have a heart transplant. After that, her kidneys failed and she got pneumonia. By the time she was seven, she was fighting lymph cancer, and at the age of 12 her body started to reject her donor heart.
For Paul and Elizabeth Clark, and their children, this was everyday reality, but Hannah isn't interested in looking back, says her mother: "I ask her how she felt back then, but she does not want to talk about it."
But in February 2006 Hannah, then 12, had the pioneering operation to remove the donor heart, which her body was rejecting, and reconnect her own heart, which had lain dormant in her chest for 10 years. Not only did it save her, it has given both her and her family a new lease of life.
"She would have died. If the cancer didn't kill her, her heart would have gone," says Elizabeth. "Now she's like a normal 13-year-old girl. I can't keep up with her!"
Before the operation, Paul and Elizabeth were taking her to London twice a week to see doctors. Paul had to give up his job, Hannah's siblings Aimee, 16, and Daniel, 10, were living with a relative, and Paul and Elizabeth were living off £2 a day for a sandwich each. They had none of the holidays or time together that other families enjoy, and they worried constantly.
"It was terrible. Every day we just didn't know whether she would be taken from us," says Elizabeth. And now? "It's unbelievable. We never thought this would happen to Hannah. We're just looking forward to the future now."
Hannah still occasionally suffers from chest pain, and the fear of the cancer returning never quite leaves, but her check-ups in London have been positive so far.
When I asked Elizabeth what Hannah has been doing for the past year she replied simply: "She's been living her life." Speaking to Hannah you get a reassuring response. She was busy, and didn't have much time to answer my questions. With a 13-year-old you can't get more normal than that.Reuse content