David’s 'Roads to Recovery' challenge for Guy’s and St Thomas’
Aged just 18, Tom Boyce’s organs failed so suddenly and critically that his family were told he probably wouldn’t make it through the night. Now two years on, his dad, David, has walked 182 miles to raise money for the ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation) service at St Thomas’ in thanks for the care that saved his son’s life.
Tom was kept alive by a special ECMO machine at St Thomas’ when his heart and lungs stopped working. He was transferred by ambulance from hospital in Cardiff to the intensive care unit (ICU) at St Thomas’, which is the route David will walk in a symbolic mark of his son’s own Road to Recovery.
In October 2017, Tom, a student at Cardiff University, felt unwell before playing rugby. He was tired, out of breath and his heart was beating rapidly, but he played the match anyway.
After a terrible night, Tom went to the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff. The last thing he remembers is being put in a wheelchair with an oxygen mask before waking up almost a week later at St Thomas’.
Staff at the hospital in Cardiff explained to his parents, David and Cathy, that Tom was critically ill with pneumonia, which had caused sepsis to develop.
‘We were told that Tom was as ill as he could be while still being alive,’ recalls David. ‘His heart and lungs were so weak that the doctors said he probably wouldn’t make it through the night. Along with our other sons Harry and William, we said goodbye to Tom. It was awful and every parent’s nightmare.’
In a final bid to save him the team in Cardiff contacted the ECMO team. They arrived in the middle of the night, put Tom on the ECMO machine and brought him back to St Thomas’.
Hope and positivity
‘Once Tom was at St Thomas’ it was such a relief’, says Cathy. ‘We were still panicking but everybody was so calm in the team, so kind and informing and it was reassuring for us to be around their positive energy.’
David adds, ‘Once he was receiving the ECMO therapy we felt it was the first positive step – it’s symbolic for why I’m doing the walk. There was finally hope.
‘Although his progress was gradual, within a day or two his heart was already working a bit better.’
ECMO treatment temporarily replaces the work of the lungs or heart in patients with severe lung or heart failure, similar to dialysis for kidney failure, allowing their organs to heal. An ECMO machine continuously takes blood from the body, adds oxygen, removes carbon dioxide and then returns it to the body.
Tom stayed on ECMO for nearly a week and was discharged a few weeks later. He was very weak and started a local cardiac rehabilitation therapy course which helped him to exercise safely again. He also received follow-up care at Guy’s and St Thomas’ to monitor his heart function and has now made a full recovery.
‘I’m eternally grateful to the team at St Thomas’,’ says Tom. ‘I received unbelievable care - I couldn’t fault it. I’m about to restart my geology degree at Cardiff University and to look at me you wouldn’t think anything was wrong with me.
‘The whole experience has made me value people more, especially my family, and I’ll miss them when I go back to university.’
The incredible challenge
David’s ‘Road to Recovery’ challenge involved him walking up to 30 miles a day for six days. It’s his personal tribute to the hospital, and a symbolic journey marking the ambulance route from Cardiff to London, the first leg of Tom’s own Road to Recovery.
‘We wanted to say thank you and came up with the idea in the waiting room of ICU,’ says David. ‘We were so thankful and overwhelmed by Tom's wonderful care and felt very safe in the hands of the team. I wanted to give something positive back to the people who work here.'
There were a number of people walking with David to support him over the six days of his challenge, and incredibly, Tom joined him for the first and last day of the walk.
David set off each day at around 7:30am and walked for around 11 to 12 hours per day.
'As I completed my 182nd mile and crossed Westminster Bridge to arrive at St Thomas', I was met by an unbelievable reception of family, friends and staff from the hospital,' he says. 'It was a humbling experience indeed. My feet were sore and my legs aching, but none of that mattered. I could not believe there were so many people waiting for me to arrive. I was so grateful for their support, it was all very emotional.
David was hoping to raise £10,000, but he smashed his target by raising more than double that, with the total currently at over £25,000 - amazing!
‘We're so very grateful for everything that the NHS has done in saving Tom's life,' says David. 'We believe the walk has been a great way for us to raise awareness and money for ECMO at St Thomas' and to say thank you to all the people in Cardiff and London that made his recovery possible.’