Shock diagnosis: The moment ‘life stopped’ for a Horsham family

A ‘fluke’ hospital visit ended in a devastating diagnosis for a young Horsham family.

Little Ivan Earl was a healthy 18-month-old toddler when he accompanied his big brother Alfie and family from their home to Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Steve Earl with wife Sarra, and children Ivan, 9, Alfie, 11 and Saskia, 14. The family are taking part in the Tour of Flanders in Belgium to raise money for the British Heart Foundation. Photo: Steve Robards SR1905855 SUS-190203-140411001

Steve Earl with wife Sarra, and children Ivan, 9, Alfie, 11 and Saskia, 14. The family are taking part in the Tour of Flanders in Belgium to raise money for the British Heart Foundation. Photo: Steve Robards SR1905855 SUS-190203-140411001

The family had agreed to take part in a research project into growth rates being held there. Alfie underwent a scan - and doctors then said they might as well check over Ivan as well.

“Life stopped at that moment,” said dad Steve. The shocked family were told that the scan revealed that Ivan had a hole in his heart - and he was given just two years to live.

“We were devastated,” said Steve, “but we knew that we had to do whatever we could and follow whatever medical advice was there.”

Ivan underwent a major operation around six weeks later - and two further holes were found in his heart. But thankfully the op proved a success.

Ivan Earl

Ivan Earl

“It all went well.” said Steve. Ivan then had regular health checks following the surgery until he was finally given the all-clear three months ago.

And now - fit and healthy and nine years old - Ivan and his family are determined to give something back for the help they received. They are to take part in the world’s toughest amateur bike race, the Tour of Flanders in Belgium, in April to raise money for the British Heart Foundation.

Ivan, with brother Alfie, 11, sister Saskia, 14, mum Sarra and dad Steve, will be riding 45 miles alongside 14,000 adults over steep hills and rutted roads.

Ivan’s brother and sister became the youngest girl and boy in the world to complete it when they undertook the tour in 2015.

Said Steve: “To see Ivan out now on his bike preparing to take on a big challenge like this, it warms the heart and soul, and everything else, to witness him doing it.”

And it’s all the more remarkable because, as well as his heart problems, Ivan was later found to be autistic. “It was a double whammy of having autism diagnosed afterwards,” said Steve. “It was also a nightmare experience for him.”

It meant, said Steve, that riding a bike for Ivan, a pupil at Warnham Primary School, was ‘even more challenging.’ But he is determined to take part in the Tour of Flanders and is now practising hard for the challenge. “He’s busily training.”