The surgeon took one look at Jenni Flynn and told her parents she had just days to live if he didn’t intervene.
The four-year-old from Hamilton had been in Melbourne that day in 1960 to visit her grandmother, who took one look at the thin, grey-skinned child and sent her straight to The Royal Children’s Hospital.
Jenni’s mum had known something was wrong. She had taken her daughter to her local doctor, but she was told to go home and read Benjamin Spock’s Baby and Child Care, the child-rearing bible published in the 1940s.
Jenni came to the RCH just as the first doctors were starting to work full-time in medical research.
With the waning of many devastating diseases such as diphtheria and rheumatic fever, efforts were now being poured into previously incurable diseases. But there still no such thing as a specialist cardiac surgeon.
Peter Jones, a general surgeon who 15 years later would lead the first Australian separation of conjoined twins, only had an X-ray to go by when he diagnosed Jenni with a narrowing of the large blood vessel that leads from the heart.