Manchester Evening News

70 years on, I’m helping others with rare condition

GRAHAM WAS FIRST BABY TREATED IN CITY FOR LIFE-THREATENIN­G DEFECT

- By PAIGE OLDFIELD newsdesk@men-news.co.uk @MENnewsdes­k

A MAN born with a condition so rare he couldn’t swallow might have died if he hadn’t received life-saving surgery in Manchester – 70 years ago.

Graham Slater was born with oesophagea­l atresia, a rare condition which affects one in 4,000 newborns.

The condition means the oesophagus, or food pipe, is not connected to the stomach.

A baby with this birth defect is unable to pass food from the mouth to the stomach and sometimes has difficulty breathing. With part of the oesophagus missing, a baby cannot swallow food or even its own saliva.

Graham, now 70, was the first baby ever to be successful­ly treated for the condition at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, making him one of the earliest survivors of the rare birth condition. Without surgical interventi­on, doctors said his life would have been unsustaina­ble.

The Manchester Centre for Neonatal Surgery, run by teams from Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital and St Mary’s Hospital, currently treats babies from across the North West. In 2023, they operated on 15 babies with the condition.

Graham has since gone on to live a healthy, happy life and has helped support children across the UK through his work as a trustee with TOFS, a charity that supports children who are unable to swallow. He also founded EAT, an internatio­nal federation of support groups for people with the condition.

“When you’re born with a condition like this, you don’t know what normal is.” he said. “I struggled in my early years, all my food was mashed up and I had to be careful with what I was eating as I got older.

“I remember early Christmas parties where the food was brought out and I’d be brought in egg sandwiches and jelly instead of what everybody else was having. I couldn’t eat sweets and lots of other foods kids would have.

“Fewer children survived with this condition back then compared to now, so I feel like one of the lucky ones.

“I went on to have a career in the aerospace and IT industries before taking early retirement when I decided I wanted to spend more time helping other people who’d had similar experience­s to me.”

Graham and his colleagues in TOFS and EAT want to ensure patients are provided with lifelong care and support: “Patients will always need some form of support, whether through education on their condition or medical support from a hospital, because the truth is that symptoms can reappear.

“As a more senior survivor I’ve become aware that parents might look at me to see what the future of their child might look like. It’s why I feel so passionate about our groups championin­g what other people are doing, whatever their limitation­s, whatever their difficulti­es.”

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Graham Slater’s condition meant he could not swallow

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