A champion boxer has returned to the hospital where he had open heart surgery at the age of five, to show children and their parents that being born with a serious condition does not limit your achievements in life.
Tommy Frank, who is the current IBO Intercontinental Flyweight, Commonwealth Super Flyweight, and WBC International Silver Super Flyweight champion, returned to the wards at Leeds Children’s Hospital where the hole-in-the-heart he was born with was corrected 21 years ago.
Frank, 26, was able to thank surgeon Carin Van Doorn, who performed his surgery in 1998 and continues to work at the hospital.
He met children and their parents including 12-year-old Amelie Brown, from Cononley, near Skipton, and seven-month-old Myles Wood, from Cleckheaton.
“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long, long time,” Frank said.
“When I first started being successful in boxing, I always dreamed of coming back here and meeting the kids, and to be a bit of an inspiration to them.
“And obviously meeting Carin, it was a bonus as well – to actually meet the surgeon who operated on me, it’s amazing.”
He also gave his support to the Yorkshire and Humber Congenital Heart Disease Network, which shares expertise from the specialist cardiac centre in Leeds throughout a network of hospitals across Yorkshire, including in his home town of Sheffield.
Frank said he cannot remember his surgery, but he has had no problems since, and he discussed with staff and patients the punishing training regime his heart has had to contend with, since he took up boxing aged 12.
“Hopefully I can be a bit of an inspiration for kids who had the same operations as me,” he said.
“I had a clean bill of health. As soon as I had those holes patched up it was ‘on your way’ and that was it. My heart is just a good as anyone else’s.”
Frank, who is also an ambassador for the national charity Heart Research UK, said: “I’m hoping that a child with heart problems can look up to me and believe that there are really no barriers to succeeding in sport.
“Thanks to the treatment and care I received I have been able to get on with my life and follow my dreams.
“If I can inspire just one child to realise their dreams too, then I feel I will have achieved something.”
Ms Van Doorn said that Frank’s story “shows they don’t have to wrap their kids up in cotton wool.
“And they can get involved in sports and live active lifestyles. They can do what they want to do and go on and fulfil their dreams.”
The surgeon said that, in the recent past, the only concern was whether children would survive the operation.
But she said that now most patients come through the procedures, there is much more focus on living a full life after surgery and looking after their hearts as they grow up.
“Your heart shouldn’t hold you back as you try and pursue all the other talents that you have,” the surgeon said.