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Shiplake College News

Not My Time To Die
Whole School

In today's Whole School Assembly, Monday 18 February, the College heard from Year 12 pupil, S Laing, who spoke about his near-death experiences with open-heart surgeries and subsequent recovery. His powerful talk, where he spoke about resilience and not giving up, serve as an important reminder that no matter what the situation or challenge is, we are all capable of overcoming adversity and building resilience.

On Friday 8 October 2021, I died. Not once, but twice. 

I had just had my third open-heart surgery when my aorta ruptured unexpectedly, and my heart stopped. They opened me again and I was kept alive for 30 minutes by a surgeon who manually squeezed my heart until they could get me onto bypass and start to patch the massive hole. I was alive, but only technically. 

Then it happened again hours later – another rupture and this time I was in a CT scanner. They rushed me back to the operating table when my heart stopped again. They again patched the leak, but I was so unstable when they finally took me back to intensive care with my chest wide open, covered with that looked like a piece of cling film through which you could see my heart beating. 

It took 24 hours before my parents could see me in intensive care – I was medically paralysed to keep me safe, but once again they thought there was bleeding. I was so unwell they had to operate in intensive care. A last throw of the dice. 

My parents had already been repeatedly told to expect the worst, but the journey had only just begun for me. This 4th open-heart surgery in a non-sterile theatre meant I got pneumonia and spent the next two weeks fighting for my life in intensive care. I had opioid withdrawal and other complications, was fed through a tube, and spent a total of 5 weeks in hospital where I lost 25kg and could scarcely walk when I left hospital. 

That wasn’t how I planned my second year at Shiplake to start. 

I want to tell you how I survived and recovered. And how last Christmas, I had to face the challenge of going back to that same hospital to have another open-heart surgery to repair complications from before. 

Whilst lots of people supported me – medical staff, my family, staff at Shiplake, and good friends – I have through my experience learned that there is one thing you really need to overcome challenges. 


We have to understand that there are large parts of our lives which are up to us. I had to find the strength to do endless physio when I was shattered. Before all this happened, I had played a lot of sport and it was this physical strength and the knowledge of doing competitive sport which meant I knew I had to keep trying, keep going, and not give up. I had to do what only I could do to get myself better and that is what made the difference in my recovery - no one could do it for me. 

Resilience is like mind over body. My body had been pretty much destroyed yet in my mind, I knew I wanted to survive and recover. I set a goal of getting back on the rugby pitch in Year 11 to play for Shiplake and that kept me focused when I could hardly walk up the stairs. 

So how do you get it. Like lots of things, it involves practice, and often in the small things. On the rugby pitch, that is giving 100% until the final whistle and somehow winning the game in the last play. It can be not giving up when you don’t get selected first time for a team, or for a part in a play, or to sing a solo. 

Things don’t always go our way or at the time we want them to. But if we can build resilience through overcoming some of the smaller things that don’t go our way, it means when something big happens like it did to me, we can, with the support of family, friends, school, use that resilience to overcome even a hurdle as big as likely death. 

When I went back into hospital just before Christmas, I really did have to call again on my experiences and resilience. Even when nothing goes wrong, recovery from open-heart surgery is big let's face it. This time there were no complications, and that same will to be alive meant that after my seven and half hour open heart surgery, I was off all breathing support in less than four hours. I was out of intensive within a day, and up and walking. 

It is easy to give up, to blame someone or something else. 

I have beaten the odds to survive and am now able to do sport again and get on with my life, but I am not different or special. We can all overcome challenges. We can all build resilience. I am proof of how important it is to have it, to grow it, and to rely on it. 

So, thank you for listening to my story and I hope it helps you to see that where there is will, there IS a way. 

It wasn’t my time to die.