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MIRROR MERCY BID LATEST: Mum mounts hospital vigil as op gives son, 6, chance of life; SURGEON LAUNCHES 5hr FIGHT.

Byline: EXCLUSIVE by PETER JONES

A TOP heart surgeon was last night battling to save the life of little Craig Christie - after a mercy mission by Scottish Daily Mirror readers.

The six-year-old suffers from a rare heart disorder which experts warned would kill him unless he had immediate surgery.

NHS medics had insisted they would not perform the risky lifesaving op, leaving Craig's parents needing pounds 40,000 to pay for treatment in Miami, Florida.

But last night - after an incredible fund-raising effort by Mirror readers - he was finally going under the knife.

Mum Wilma and dad Hamish, from Elgin, Moray, told how they had started an anxious vigil for their brave wee son.

Wilma revealed: "The nurse has just been through to say all is going very well with Craig's op.

"It will be a few hours yet, though - the operation takes a minimum of five hours."

She explained Craig had already come through an exploratory op to assess the condition of his heart on Wednesday.

Wilma added: "He was soon sitting up in bed watching telly and playing GameBoy at the same time, having just eaten a cheeseburger, chips and chicken strips."

But last night's procedure was far more complex.

And Cynthia Guttierrez, of Miami Children's Hospital, said: "We will not know the child's diagnosis until after surgery.

"It looks like today's surgery is going to be a long one. It could be that Craig will need a series of operations to correct the fault in his heart."

Dr Redmond Burke, one of America's top child cardiac surgeons, was performing last night's surgery after NHS doctors insisted they would have to wait a year before they would consider the procedure.

But Craig's parents were desperate to do all they could for their sick son - and it was their plea for help which touched the hearts of readers everywhere.

Thanks to the generosity of people like store tycoon Vera Weisfeld and nightclub boss Mike Wilson, Wilma was able to book her son into the US hospital within weeks.

Craig needed a complex operation which included replacing a heart valve.

Tests had already showed the schoolboy was suffering from one blocked heart valve, leakage in two others and thickening of the organ's inner walls.

Medics in the UK, however, had wanted to wait a year before doing further tests.

But, fearing for their son, Wilma and Hamish launched an internet search for help, which led them to Dr Burke

He told the couple Craig would need immediate surgery to replace his damaged aortic valve, or he could die.

And even as Dr Burke operated last night, Wilma was using technology to keep family and friends constantly updated on Craig's progress.

She has set up a special website and aims to post bulletins at every stage of her son's treatment.

Wilma said: "It has been a steep learning curve for me on websites, but it's been the best way to communicate news on Craig.

"The hospital have let me use a terminal here to post news, they have been so kind and helpful."

But, for a caring family that has already raised nearly pounds 20,000 for other patients in Britain, it is no more than they deserve.

CAPTION(S):

AMERICAN MISSION: Wilma, left, and dad Hamish, right, are anxiously waiting on news of Craig, centre
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 9, 2003
Words:555
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