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YourLife: How Viagra is helping to keep me alive; HEALTH: One woman's amazing story of survival after being diagnosed with a crippling heart condition.

WHEN Kirsty Boswell tells people she is on Viagra she is usually greeted with sniggers.

But for the 30-year-old it's no laughing matter.

Kirsty, who lives in a small village close to the border of north Warwickshire and Leicestershire, suffers from pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) a deadly heart and lung disease.

And the Viagra - it's actually a pill-based on the drug, called revatio - helps keep her alive.

Five years ago she thought she only had days to live.

She is classed as having a terminal illness and doctors doubted she would survive.

In fact during an early operation she begged surgeons to let her die she was in so much pain.

Kirsty, who owns a boutique in Ashby-de-la-Zouche with husband James, is thankful for every day, knowing others who were diagnosed at the same time as her have not made it this far.

"Five years ago I really did not think I would be here today," she reflected.

"But I got married 18 months ago, I'm running a business and I'm back riding horses every day. This treatment has been amazing."

Kirsty, originally from Grendon in north Warwickshire, was living in Northumberland and managing a 3,000-acre country estate when her symptoms first manifested.

A keen horsewoman, Kirsty regularly competed in eventing but during the summer of 2000 found she became breathless after rides.

"I'd get off my horse after a cross country and be absolutely shattered," she explained.

"It was really strange because I'd always been fit, healthy and active. I couldn't work out why I was getting so exhausted."

Over the next few months Kirsty's condition deteriorated. She felt breathless walking up stairs and she was also getting chest pains.

But it wasn't until she blacked-out twice that she visited the doctor.

An echocardiogram showed her heart was unusually swollen but no one knew why.

Six months and a raft of tests later she had an MRI scan at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, a centre for specialised heart care.

Doctors there said she needed a pacemaker. But the operation did not go as planned.

"I lay there and my heart felt like it was trying to go through the ceiling."

Realising they had a bigger problem on their hands than anticipated the heart team ordered another echocardiogram.

It showed Kirsty's heart was four times the normal size. Her pulmonary artery, which takes blood from the heart to the lungs, had narrowed so much the blood could not get through and was backing up in the heart.

"It was pulmonary arterial hypertension," said Kirsty. "I was told it was worse than cancer and there was no cure."

Kirsty's blood pressure was perilously high and over the next two days surgeons drilled a hole in the septum, the covering of the heart, to drain the blood.

"I was awake during the operation because it was too dangerous to anaesthetise me.

"What should have been a two-hour operation ended up taking six hours.

"I remember saying 'let me go, I don't want to come through this'."

Finally Kirsty stabilised and the doctors were able to comhad a vision for my ownplete the operation. She was dosed with morphine to combat the pain. But no one was confident of her chances.

She had a catheter fitted through her chest and into her heart to feed a drug into her heart to help dilate her blood vessels, allowing the blood to flow into her lungs.

But the drug had dreadful side effects - jaw pain, stomach upsets and a feeling of being constantly hungover.

She came down with septiceamia three times.

FactFile - PAH

PULMONARY arterial hypertension (PAH) is very rare, affecting a maximum one person in every 2,000.

THERE are no definitive figures but it estimated there are about 4,000 PAH patients in the UK with a further 4,000 undiagnosed sufferers.

PAH can occur without obvious cause.

IT affects more young women in their and 40s but can affect anyone at any age.

THE illness may have progressed significantly before it is diagnosed as symptoms are general.

SUFFERERS may experience breathlessness, fatigue, weakness, angina, fainting and abdominal swelling.

THERE is no cure and there is a poor survival rate for patients.

REVATIO has the same active ingredient as Viagra - sildenafil citrate.

DRUG company Pfizer undertook a six-year clinical development programme with sildenafil citrate in PAH.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Apr 17, 2006
Words:725
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