Father gets tattoo on chest to match son’s heart surgery scar

'All of these warriors should be proud of their scars and all they achieve in life,' says Leanne Watts

Sabrina Barr
Sunday 23 June 2019 09:47
Father gets tattoo on chest to match son's heart surgery scar

A father has had a tattoo inked on his chest in tribute to the scar his son sustained during life-saving heart surgery.

When Leanne Watts was 28 weeks pregnant with her son, Joey, she was informed he had a rare condition called supravalvular aortic stenosis.

The heart defect causes the large vessel which carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body to narrow.

On 23 May, six-year-old Joey, from Beverley, East Yorkshire, underwent an eight-hour operation at Leeds Children's Hospital to widen the blood vessel, a procedure which came with a one-in-10 chance of survival.

The surgery, which has proven successful for Joey so far, resulted in him acquiring a 9cm scar down the centre of his chest.

Martin and Leanne Watts found out about Joey's heart defect 28 weeks into Mrs Watt's pregnancy

"When Joey saw the scar, he just said, 'Is this where they have cut me to fix my heart?'" Mrs Watts said.

"We've told him it should be something to be proud of and he shouldn't be ashamed by what has happened to him.

"All of these warriors should be proud of their scars and all they achieve in life."

On 29 May, the day after Joey was discharged from hospital, his father, Martin Watts, went to a local tattoo parlour to have a copy of his son's scar tattooed on his chest.

'We've told him it should be something to be proud of and he shouldn't be ashamed by what has happened to him'

Mr Watts also had his son's heartbeat tattooed on his chest to the right of the scar design.

The Watts family are supporting the "#ScarSelfie" campaign being promoted by the Children's Heart Surgery Fund (CHSF), which is encouraging patients of heart surgery to share pictures of their scars on social media.

The campaign also encourages donations to CHSF, which provides aid to the Leeds Congenital Heart Unit at Leeds Children's Hospital.

"We fully understand that showing a scar picture is a very personal decision and not for everyone," said Sharon Milner, CEO of CHSF.

"We are blown away by the bravery and resilience of the hundreds of CHD patients who undergo open-heart surgery and life-saving procedures at the Leeds Congenital Heart Unit every day – like Joey."


Joey's older brother, seven-year-old Harley, was diagnosed with the some condition when he was 14 weeks old.

Harley is due to undergo the same surgery later this year, while Joey will require three further operations to widen his pulmonary branches and stretch his blood vessels.

“You take comfort from the way surgeons at Leeds handled things with Joey,” Ms Watts said. “It will be just as scary but they have given you reason to believe.

“I thought superheroes wore capes, they don’t, they wear surgical scrubs and gowns."

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Supravalvular aortic stenosis is linked to William's Syndrome, a congenital disorder which can cause heart issues.

“It’s a very rare condition and is linked to William’s Syndrome. For some reason, the boys don’t have William's Syndrome but they have the heart condition of a child with William’s," Mrs Watts explained.

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