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East Durham College student fundraising for life-saving surgery for brother

Nov 10, 2022 | Leisure & Lifestyle

A young student is putting out a plea to her local community to help raise money for life-saving surgery for her brother, after being informed that the surgery can’t be funded by the NHS and will cost them £10,000.

Hollie Ferguson, 19, from Houghton-le-Spring is asking for donations for her brother Jacob Brown, 14, after he was diagnosed with the condition Pectus Excavatum.

The condition means that Jacob’s ribcage is growing inwards and has caused the sternum to sink into his chest, with just 3 ½ inches between his sternum and spine. This is putting extreme levels of pressure on his internal organs, particularly his heart and lungs.

Throughout his life, Jacob has suffered from breathing difficulties. This was originally diagnosed as asthma, and he was given an inhaler which didn’t improve his condition. It wasn’t until just a year ago, at the age of 13, when he went for a run where he seriously struggled to breathe and experienced unbearable chest pains, that he finally discovered he suffers from the condition.

After this incident, Jacob’s doctors have strictly advised him not to exercise as this could cause his heart to overwork and could potentially be deadly. Jacob used to be a regularly active teenager who dreamt of a career in the army. The news has devasted Jacob who has had to completely change his lifestyle and come to terms with the fact he most probably won’t be accepted into the army.

Just earlier this year, Jacob caught an infection. For someone without his condition, their body would have been able to fight off the infection normally, but due to the pressure on his lungs, Jacob was bedbound, and his family regularly had to check up on him throughout the night, just to check he was still breathing.

“To see my brother in this condition is awful.” said Hollie. “When we were first told by the NHS that his surgery would cost £10,000, we just couldn’t believe it. But we’re determined to get Jacob the help he needs.”

The surgery that Jacob needs is offered free of charge in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland on the NHS, and was also offered in England until 2019. As Hollie and Jacob live in England, he isn’t eligible to receive the procedure on the NHS. Despite the health risks to Jacob, in England, the same surgery is now classed as ‘cosmetic’ and come under the same category as breast enhancement surgery or ‘otoplasty’, also known as ear pinning.

The procedure involves placing a series of metal bars in Jacob’s ribs. Over time, these bars will push the sternum outwards to improve the depth of his chest, freeing the pressure on his organs and allowing him to live his life normally.

Despite the potentially life-threating condition he has and the long recovery ahead of him, Jacob is remaining positive and is eager to being able to exercise once again and live life like a normal teenager, without worry.

As part of her fundraising efforts, Hollie has set up a GoFund Me page and they are also planning to host an event in their local community to raise awareness and raise the much-needed funds for Jacob’s surgery. The family has also contacted Houghton and Sunderland South’s MP Bridget Phillips, who is supporting the campaign and has written to the NHS in hopes that Jacob and others throughout the country receive the life saving surgery they need. So far, she has not received a reply.

Hollie and Jacob’s mother, Rachel Ferguson said: “We know the cost-of-living crisis is hitting everyone hard right now. We are a family of myself, my husband and six children, and we just don’t have any alternative but to ask others for help. Even if people can give a small amount, it would mean the world to everyone in our family.”

Hollie has been with East Durham College for several years now, studying engineering at The Technical Academy campus. She is now completing an apprenticeship with Advanced Electric Machines and attends college on day release.

Jacob is home educated and is currently enrolled on East Durham College’s home education programme.