Teenage friends fight life threatening illnesses

TWO talented sports-mad teenagers told this week how their close friendship helped them cope when they were both diagnosed with potentially life-threatening conditions.

Ella Sayer, from Hemsby, was discovered to have a large hole in her heart just weeks after her friend Ellie Fewkes-Woodrow learned she was suffering with a brain tumour.

Both girls celebrated Ellie’s 14th birthday yesterday and have almost fully recovered after undergoing major surgery.

The two football-loving teens met three years ago playing for the Norwich City Girls Centre of Excellence team.

The bond between them has grown, supporting each other before and after their operations and throughout their recovery.

They have also shared in the delight of returning to the Norwich team recently after missing much of the season.

Flegg High School pupil Ella made an emotional return, setting up one of the goals in a 3-2 win against Ipswich.

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Ellie, who lives at Carlton Colville, near Lowestoft, was also back in action last week in a match against Arsenal.

She underwent a nine hour operation to remove the brain tumour at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in November.

Ella feared she might not be able to play football again after being diagnosed with an enlarged heart and hole in her heart last November. She risked suffering a stroke without surgery.

However, she has made a remarkable recovery after having a four hour operation at Great Ormond Street Hospital in January. She returned to school after taking a month off and was soon playing football.

Ella said: “It was great when I put on the football shirt again, it felt exhilarating to be back on the pitch. Ellie had her first game against Arsenal and coped amazingly. You would not have guessed what she had been through.

“We were always friends, but this has bought us closer. It was shocking to learn I had something wrong with my heart. The news was very sudden and quite upsetting.”

Ella started suffering from palpitations and breathlessness playing football last August. Originally it was planned to perform the operation though a vein in her groin, because it was not thought the hole was very large.

However, further examinations revealed it was slightly larger in size than a 50p, meaning she would need open heart surgery.

She has been supported throughout the ordeal by mum Jo, 38, dad Mark, 42, brother Lloyd, 11, sister Laura 20,

A high end teaching assistant at Flegg High, Jo said: “Ella has coped amazingly, it was very emotional when we discovered she had a hole in her heart. The two girls are so close and have been there for each other when they are feeling low.

“They talk on the phone and tell each other how they are feeling. Ella has been really brave, was put through as a fast track patient and in and out of hospital within three days.”

Ellie said: “Everyone gets us mixed up, we both have similar names, blonde hair, are almost the same height and play in midfield.

“It helped Ella seeing me recover, knowing that I was fine and there were no complications after the operation.”

Ella may still need another operation and will have an MRI scan next month to check if her heart has shrunk.

Both girls were invited to sit in the director’s box at Carrow Road to watch Norwich City’s match with Doncaster and met star striker Grant Holt.

Ella said: “I hope to carry on playing football and would like to become a coach and play for Norwich Ladies. Having the illness has made me more interested in science and I have learnt a lot about the heart.”