March to save Leicester Glenfield Hospital heart unit

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Media captionFamilies gathered at Syston, in Leicestershire

A teenager who says she owes her life to Leicester Glenfield Hospital has led a protest march against plans to close its children's heart surgery unit.

Ria Pahwa, 14, of Syston, Leicestershire, who has had seven heart operations at the hospital, organised the protest with her mother.

An NHS review recommended closing the unit in favour of creating a specialist centre in Birmingham.

But protesters said they feared such a move would cost lives.

Ria, who is part of the UK Youth Parliament and Young People's Council, was born with a life-threatening heart condition.

'Hours to live'

"Just eight hours after I was born my skin began to turn pale blue," she said.

Image caption Many of those on the march said their children owed their lives to the unit's expertise

"My mother was told I needed a life-saving operation and I only had two hours left to survive.

"If Glenfield wasn't there then I wouldn't have been transferred in time.

"I've had seven heart surgeries since and a stroke in 2009, which Glenfield has supported me through and made me feel comfortable as though it was my own home."

Her mother Vira Popat said without the children's services at Glenfield Hospital her daughter might not have lived.

"The march is the only way we can say thank you," she said.

"I'm proud that she's doing this to save the unit because they have done a lot for Ria... she's very passionate about it.

"It was a very devastating decision to close the unit; they need to reconsider."

Last month, the Joint Committee of Primary Care Trusts (JCPCT) said the East Midlands Congenital Heart Centre should be one of three to close nationally.

The Glenfield unit is to stop surgery for children but will remain open to diagnose patients and for monitoring and non-surgical treatment.

The JCPCT said it wanted to improve services by creating fewer but larger surgical centres, and said expertise would be retained in the Midlands "through joint planning by Glenfield Hospital and Birmingham Children's Hospital."

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