Postgraduate student’s surprise at diagnosis of heart condition usually found in young children

Josh King, 24, at home at Attleborough, where he is writing his experiences as he receives treatment

Josh King, 24, at home at Attleborough, where he is writing his experiences as he receives treatment for a rare heart condition recently diagnosed. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2017

When Josh King sought medical advice for a throat infection - little did he expect to be told he had a hole in his heart.

The 24-year old English literature and creative writing graduate from Attleborough, had always struggled with sport and physical activities but thought little of it - until he was diagnosed with a condition which is usually found in humans during childhood.

Mr King, a former Wymondham College pupil, has atrial septal defect, meaning the wall that separates the upper heart chambers does not close completely.

It is usually picked up by medics during a person's childhood, but somehow Mr King's condition slipped under the radar - until a doctor in New York found a heart murmer while performing routine checks for his throat infection.

'Now I know why I always came last in the cross-country races at school,' Mr King said.


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The diagnosis meant Mr King faced a choice between paying for treatment in USA, where he was studying as a postgraduate, or free NHS care back in England.

After discussion with his American doctor Mr King chose the NHS, and he now spends much time travelling between Norwich and London for specialist heart treatment at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust.

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The diagnosis gave him an insight into both countries' healthcare systems, so how do they compare?

'My doctor in USA said he had never diagnosed someone at my age with the condition, because they check babies specifically for it,' Mr King said.

'From the States I have the doctor's invitation to keep him personally updated, and here I have the promise that I won't get lost in the system,' Mr King said.

He said his doctor in America seemed more sympathetic, because of the culture of less attainable healthcare - while their UK counterparts 'prefer to tackle the issue head on and not stall for time - perhaps because they don't have any'.

'But I would have to pay a lot for the treatment in USA, so I chose to come home to the NHS,' Mr King said.

While he gets the care he has taken up a part-time job as a barman and he is working on his first novel.

Have you got an unusual medical condition?

Email nicholas.carding@archant.co.uk

Blog details Mr King's experience

'This is where the hole is, between these two chamber walls,' said the cardiologist, pointing to a crude biro drawing of my heart. 'We would recommend surgery. You can either stay here or you can go back to the UK, and take advantage of your NHS.

Within three weeks I was on a plane, heading back to Norfolk, saying goodbye to New York, the place I had believed to be my new home after studying there for two years.

But, as I told the doctor, to muted reaction, home is where the heart is.

Only three weeks before I had gone in to the campus health centre with a throat infection and left with an appointment to the cardiologist after my doctor had, purely by chance, heard a murmur through her stethoscope, which had gone undetected by every doctor for 24 years.

That was in May 2016, and since then I have seen multiple grainy images of my oversized heart, twice spent the best part of two hours in the jet-engine-cum-cryogenic-tube that is an MRI machine, and compiled a list of all the poor sports performances I now have an excuse for.

Still, my position has had its points of interest. Namely, giving me an insight into two differing health systems at a time of political unpredictability.

'This isn't about me wanting more money,' my doctor in New York told me, after a lengthy discussion about my work, university life and my writing.

Not, I think, to lessen the blow when the bill came, but because their culture of less attainable healthcare has made them more sympathetic.

Back in the UK, my doctor prefers to tackle the issue head on and not stall for time, perhaps because they don't have any.

From the States I have the doctor's invitation to keep him personally updated, and here I have the promise that I won't get lost in the system.

I remind myself that I am lucky to have had this found out before the problem grew larger.

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