BY TOBY PORTER
A teenager who had life-saving heart surgery at Evelina London Children’s Hospital as a baby has represented the UK at the Youth Sailing World Championships in China last month.
Billy Vennis-Ozanne, 18, underwent open heart surgery at the Waterloo hospital just two weeks old, to correct a birth defect, known as transposition of the great arteries (TGA). The condition meant that the two main blood vessels in his heart were connected to the wrong heart chambers.
The surgery was successful, and although he is now a fit and healthy student, Billy needed to be monitored closely by doctors at Evelina London well into his teenage years.
He showed how far he has come by finishing 20th in this year’s world championships – which he and his family believe would not have been possible without the care he has received at Evelina London.
Billy developed his love for sailing after his family moved from London to Hill Head, Hampshire, in 2005. Despite having no background in sailing, he showed a natural skill for the sport and began racing at his local sailing club at the age of five.
In 2011, Billy competed in his first national under-13s sailing competition in an RS Tera boat, a type of one-man dinghy, at Hayling Island, Hampshire.
Before competing he had to undergo a precautionary MRI scan and fitness test at Evelina London and passed with flying colours. He did well in the competition, coming sixth at the age of only 11.
Billy continued to excel across many different sailing disciplines, travelling to Italy in 2012, and after five days of racing became the RS Tera world champion 2012.
He also competed in the 2013 RS Feva World Championships and moved into a larger Topper boat
following this competition, taking part in many events across Europe and winning several trophies along the way.
This year, Billy has moved up to compete in “29er” boats, only one step down from the Olympic class “49er” sailing boats for adults. The two-man 29er boats are much larger and faster than the boats he had previously competed in.
This year Billy beat 150 other competitors to win the 2017 National 29er championship in the UK. He followed this up with a ninth place finish at the 2017 European 29er championships in Brittany, France, and was the top placing British competitor.
His success at the 29er level led to him being selected to represent the UK at the Youth Sailing World Championships in China, which took place between the 9 and 16 of December.
Billy said: “I am very proud to have represented the UK at the Youth Sailing World Championships – it’s a dream come true. It’s taken a lot of hard work to get to this point, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help and support of my parents and the great team at Evelina London Children’s Hospital.
“It’s been great to stay in touch with Dr Miller who has helped care for me over the years. In 2013 I did a fundraising sail and bike ride to raise money for the hospital so they can continue to help other children who suffer from heart conditions.”
Billy is currently studying for his A Levels, but unlike most teenagers he has been practicing with the British national sailing team in his spare time. He hopes to start university next year, and to be a member of Team GB at the 2024 Olympics in Paris, France.
Billy’s father Andre Ozanne said: “Billy is an incredible boy and we are very proud of him. We also want to say a massive thank you to the staff at Evelina London for all their help. It’s been a long, exciting journey from the early dark days of living at the hospital with a very sick baby.
“To see him develop into a grown man who has achieved such great things in a short amount of time has been incredible, and those dark days are long gone and forgotten about, with only his scar to tell the story.
We are forever grateful to the doctors at Evelina London who have helped Billy to get to where he is today. Without their amazing work he would not be here.”
Dr Owen Miller, consultant in paediatric cardiology at Evelina London Children’s Hospital, has followed Billy as an outpatient for much of his life and has kept in contact with the Vennis-Ozanne family as Billy’s sailing career developed.
Dr Miller said: “Billy was born with a heart condition that meant his main cardiac arteries were connected from the wrong side of the heart. This meant that Billy would have been a ‘blue baby’ with dangerously low oxygen levels. If left untreated this could have been fatal, and he had to undergo an ‘arterial switch’ procedure at just 14 days old to reconnect the arteries the right way round.
“We are delighted that he has grown into such a healthy young man, and we are all very proud of his success as a sailor. We watched Billy’s progress at this month’s world championships and we are delighted with his top 20 finish.”