`My son died, but I forgive the surgeon'

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SANDY RUNDLE did not think twice when James Wisheart told her that the hole- in-the-heart operation he proposed for her son, Matthew, had a 90 per cent chance of success.

"I thought you go into hospital to get better. I never thought we would come home without Matthew. I took 90 per cent to be pretty good. With hindsight, I suppose I should have asked more questions."

Amid all the recriminations, grief and anger over the Bristol heart babies, few parents are inclined to be forgiving. Mrs Rundle, 32, is an exception. Although she knows something was wrong at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, she cannot find it in herself to blame Mr Wisheart. After Matthew died, she and her husband, who works for a chemical company near their home in Tintagel, Cornwall, wrote to thank him for doing all he could.

"I am one of those people that trusts people. I can't believe a surgeon would lie. He did seem a very nice man. When Matthew went into hospital he was suffering from bed sores and they sent over to Paris to get a special bed for him. Nothing seemed to be too much trouble. A lot of parents can't stand Mr Wisheart after what happened, but I can't share that. We were really pleased with the care Matthew had. I am sure he never went into the operating theatre with anything but an intention to help."

But she expresses the disbelief shared by parents and the public that operations which were going disastrously wrong were allowed to continue for so long. "I find it hard to believe people tried to stop them and no one had the power. Somebody must have the power to stop a surgeon."

Matthew was born with Down's syndrome on 5 June 1993 and only later diagnosed with his heart problem, delivering a double shock to his parents. They already had one son and have since had two more. They decided to devote themselves to giving Matthew the best life they could.

He was one of the last babies to be operated on by Mr Wisheart for the hole-in-the-heart condition known as atrioventricular septal defect (AVSD). He was ten months old. Seven of the previous 13 babies considered by the GMC had died making Mr Wisheart's survival rate at that point less than 50 per cent.

Matthew was taken down to theatre at 8am on 28 March 1994. His parents were told to expect him back by afternoon, but there was a delay and they did not see him again until early evening. Mr Wisheart told them the operation had gone well but there had been some difficulty getting him off the heart bypass machine.

For the next seven days, Matthew lay on a ventilator in intensive care, his condition veering wildly. One minute he would be doing well, next there was an emergency. His face began to swell but Mr Wisheart told them that it was just fluid.

On the evening of the fifth of April, Nigel, Matthew's father, went to the cinema. When he returned to the hospital he was told nothing more could be done. Sandy was at home.

"My husband called and said Matthew was not very good and I should go up. I still didn't suspect anything was seriously wrong."

She arrived at 9 pm and at 11 pm they switched off the ventilator. Matthew died at midnight. Since his death, the Rundle's have taken little part in the campaign to expose what went on at Bristol, feeling that it disturbs their son's memory.

"We could honestly say we had done everything we could for him and we had peace of mind. But when this case came up I started to relive it all. Your peace of mind goes and you wonder if you took him to the wrong hospital. I don't feel Matthew is laid to rest while all this is going on."

But she understands why other parents, not called to give evidence at the GMC as she was, want a public inquiry. "A lot of people feel they have not been heard. I can understand why they want to take it further. They want the truth about their own children to come out."