Beating the heartbreak

This article was written for Public Health England's staff magazine, and has been shared on our website with their permission. Public Health England is one of Mosaic's Employment Partners, offering our members Transitional Employment Placements at their Waterloo offices.

Each day 12 babies are diagnosed with a congenital heart defect in the UK. Nowadays these defects can be diagnosed in the womb, however back in 1977 this wasn’t the case for Lee who is now an Assistant Personal Assistant (APA) and Administration Assistant at PHE.

Lee was born with a hole in his heart and blockage in the pulmonary artery, and ventricular septal defect – an abnormality of the heart that developed in the womb. Lee was diagnosed when he was born and had to wait until he was 5 to have open heart surgery at Great Ormond Street Hospital, but growing up he never allowed his heart condition to get in the way of living an active life.

As a passionate cook, it was only natural for him to go down the route of becoming a chef – a career in which he invested 20 years of his life. However, this all came to an abrupt halt 3 years ago, when he collapsed with a mini heart attack on a busy kitchen service shift at the age of 39.

“It really broke me to be told by the Cardiologist that I could never work in kitchens again,” Lee says. “After 20 long years, I found it really difficult adjusting, it was a really low point in my life.” So low in fact, that Lee found himself having to go through therapy after experiencing a breakdown, but there was a light at the end of the tunnel – the Mosaic Clubhouse.

Mosaic Clubhouse is an award-winning mental health charity based in Brixton supporting people in the Lambeth community and surrounding boroughs. The charity promotes positive mental health for adults living with severe and often enduring mental health problems, helping people to regain the confidence and skills necessary to lead productive and satisfying lives.

Lee knows from first-hand experience how difficult and daunting it can be returning to work, but Mosaic Clubhouse helped him kick start his career and begin his new journey here at PHE, through the charity’s Transitional Employment Placements (TEP) scheme.

The Clubhouse work with people like Lee to get them ready to return to work and support them in entry-level placements with a view to moving onto longer-term employment, working with employment partners such as PHE to make appropriate adjustments for individuals to get the most out of their placements.

Lee’s day to day role at PHE involves business support for the Strategy Directorate including scheduling meetings for senior leaders and liaising with key stakeholders such as the NHS and the Department of Health and Social Care.

“I love working with my colleagues in Strategy,” says Lee, “I also enjoy meeting different people from all areas of PHE from doctors and professors, to nurses and IT wizards. I enjoy the new challenge and every day is different.

“Working in hospitality for 20 years taught me to communicate with various people from all different cultures and walks of life, and I have been able to transfer that to working at PHE, and build on this further.”

Outside of work, Lee is a proud father to two children. His first born was born two weeks premature, coming in at a very tiny 5 pounds 2 ounces, but she was a healthy baby and it was a relief that she did not inherit any heart problems. However, in July 2013 when Lee’s youngest son was born, Lee says the initial smiles surrounding the delivery room quickly changed to whispers and concerned looks.

Lee's youngest son was found to have a similar congenital heart problem to Lee called Tetralogy of Fallot – a group of four structural abnormalities within the heart that occur together, and at just 7 days old he had his first surgery. “Unfortunately, the operation was unsuccessful due to his arteries being so small – it was overwhelming and scary,” Lee says. The decision was then made that his son should have an open-heart operation when he was 7 months old.

The surgery was successful, but his son was not out of the woods yet – this would only be the second in a long line of future surgeries. But Lee says he always had hope that his son would make it through, and he’s thankful for how diagnosis and treatment have moved on since Lee himself was born.

“He is a real fighter, hence his name which is said to mean ‘warrior’,” Lee says. “My heart condition wasn’t diagnosed when I was born as ultrasound was not available at the time, so it was a shock for my mother.  Fortunately, my son was diagnosed in the womb, and instead of having to wait 5 years like me for open-heart surgery, his was able to get the right help and treatment at the earliest opportunity.”

His son turned 6 this year and is a happy and healthy child, and for this reason, the British Heart Foundation and their work is very close to Lee’s heart. “If it was not for their research, myself and my son would not be here today,” says Lee.

That’s why back in September, Lee and his son, inspired by their experience and World Heart Day, took to the hustle and bustle of Waterloo Station to raise money for the British Heart Foundation – raising just under £200 in 2 hours!

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Mosaic Clubhouse
65 Effra Road, Brixton
London, SW2 1BZ
Tel: 020 7924 9657

About Us

Mosaic Clubhouse is part of a worldwide network of clubhouses that exist to provide support and opportunities to people living with a mental health condition.

Mosaic Clubhouse is a registered charity No: 1071705. Company No: 3403522

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