Mr Paolo De Coppi, 41, is a Consultant Paediatric Surgeon at the Portland Hospital where he runs a clinic one-day a week. He was on the team which carried out the first transplant on a boy using a windpipe created from the child’s own stem cells. Mr De Coppi is carrying out this pioneering research at Great Ormond Street hospital (GOSH) to help children born with abnormalities.
“My daughters are aged eight and 11 and I don’t get much time with them. So I enjoy getting them breakfast before I leave for work at 7.30am. My grey Vespa GTS scooter gets me through the rush-hour traffic on the 25 minute journey from my home in Muswell Hill to the hospital. Ward rounds start at 8am. If I have patients admitted at the Portland, I’ll review them early in the morning before my shift at GOSH or later in the evening. I’m passionate about finding ways to help children born with abnormalities like a missing gullet or an incomplete wind-pipe. That’s what triggered my research: to find a way to build perfect tissue in the lab for these children to replace their missing organ or tissue.
As an infant may only weigh 2-3 kilos, there’s not much to work with so you have to use a prosthesis and this can eventually rupture. And that’s very frustrating which is why we’re trying to find solutions.
After my rounds, I may operate or go to the lab to have meetings with researchers about specific patients. In theatre, I’m very focused as though I’m repairing a watch. You can’t do this work if you get too emotional in surgery. There’s a lot of empathy and a lot of involvement that goes on before and after though when you meet the parents and see the child.
Those relationships are really important. Emails get answered in between cases and this is when I can grab a quick lunch. I’ve seen a couple of children today I was worried about. We’ve done a different type of operation on a little girl who was born with a hole in the diaphragm and had bad acid reflux. Fixing the diaphragm with a patch was a complex operation and we also did a procedure to wrap the stomach around the oesophagus to stop her vomiting. She’s doing well but it was a big operation so we need to be very careful. I also see a four-year old born with his gullet partially missing. We pulled his gullet together then did another operation to stop him vomiting but it’s recurred.
On a Tuesday, my clinic at the Portland finishes at 7pm and I may do a ward round following this if there are patients. If I have patients admitted over the weekend at the Portland, I review them early in the morning before my family wakes up. Dinner is eaten together with my wife and the girls then, once the children are in bed, we sit in the kitchen working on our laptops.
A couple of times a week I have research appointments over Skype with other experts who I plan experiments with. Or I’ll talk online to lab colleagues who I’ve not had time to catch up with during the day. Then it’s off to bed, and I’m asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow.”
Words by Sophie Goodchild