Grandmother tracks down family of ‘wonderful’ surgeon who saved her

Grandmother, 68, turns detective to track down and thank family of the ‘wonderful’ surgeon who saved her life with pioneering op when she was 10

  • Susan Payne says she faced a ’50/50′ chance of dying during the operation
  • The only other child to face procedure on her hospital ward at the time died  
  • Using a photo bearing doctor’s name, she appealed for family to come forward
  • Has now come face-to-face with his daughter 58 years after the treatment

A little girl aged just ten whose life saved by a pioneering surgeon has tracked down his family – to thank them 58 years later.

Susan Payne, now 68, set out to find relatives of the surgeon who repaired a hole in her heart as a schoolgirl. But her only clue was a photo with the doctor’s name above her hospital bed.

She faced a ’50/50′ chance of dying and the only other child to undergo the procedure at the same time as her died.

Susan Payne (pictured, left) was just 10 years old when Dr Dillwyn Thomas (right) saved her life with a procedure she says carried a 50 per cent chance of her dying

Susan is pictured in the hospital 58 years ago, surrounded by her family in the place she received life-saving treatment 

This is the photo which showed the doctor’s name, allowing Susan to track down his family

The grandmother turned detective and appealed for relatives of Dr Dillwyn Thomas to come forward. 

She was amazed to be contacted by the surgeon’s daughter Margaret Hayley – and arranged to meet to thank her face-to-face for her father’s NHS work.

Susan, of Newbridge on Wye, Powys, said: ‘Here I am at 68 with two children and four grandchildren, and those generations would never have been if it wasn’t for that wonderful man.

Susan tracked down the surgeon’s daughter Margaret Hayley (pictured) and was able to meet her face to face 

‘I’m incredibly lucky that wonderful surgeon was able to carry out that operation on me – and successfully.

‘The big risk was brain damage, because they had to slow your metabolism down so much, your blood wasn’t flowing properly.

‘I had the operation at the same time as a boy on my ward. He didn’t survive it – and I did. So it was really 50-50.’

Dr Thomas developed a technique using an ice-bath to slow the heart which enabled him to operate.

Susan underwent the operation in May 1960 at Sully Hospital in the Vale of Glamorgan.

She was contacted on the phone by Mrs Hayley – and later met her face-to-face to say thanks.

Dr Thomas qualified at St Bartholomew’s Hospital Medical School in London in 1933, retired in 1972 and died in 1985, aged 77.

Mrs Hayley, said: ‘He was really quite a private man and so dedicated to his work – he was jolly tired and didn’t have much of a social life. If he was asked what he did for a living, he would say a butcher.’

Susan – pictured with her husband, Pete – says she wouldn’t have been able to ensure subsequent generations had a future if her life hadn’t have been saved at the age of 10 

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When the grandmother was a schoolgirl her life was saved at this hospital, but she had just one photo of the doctor who treated her with which to track down his relatives 

Susan Payne (pictured with her sister) wanted to thank the man who ensured that she could live to be a grandmother 

Susan is pictured aged 10 – when her life was saved by pioneering surgery – alongside her sister in hospital 

Daughter Mrs Hayley said he would have been ‘absolutely amazed’ that Susan was trying to track him down.

The pair shared a cup of tea and cakes as they discussed the pioneering operation which saved her life.

She said: ‘He lived for his patients and he would have been so pleased that she’s has such a happy life.’


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