How Did The Sonalee Laboratory Come About
Written By Dr Sonalee Wijetunge's Mum and Brother
Although Sonalee’s Marfan syndrome was not recognised until later on in life, she felt its impact from an early age. As a child, she suffered with scoliosis. For several years, she wore back braces - the Boston brace in the early years and the Milwaukee brace in the later years - to try to correct this. However, when this was unsuccessful, she underwent two spinal fusion operations, at different stages, for this issue. Despite these problems, she excelled at school and went on to qualify as a doctor from St George’s Hospital Medical School in June 1998.
Sonalee had a stubborn streak; this inner drive helped her to make the most of the short life she had. She would not allow anything to hold her back. She loved horse riding from childhood, a skill she continued to enjoy into her adult life. She enjoyed travelling, despite the reservations her parents had about some of her trips, (a solo backpacking trip to New Zealand involving white water rafting, glacial walking and hiking in the mountains comes to mind!) Closer to home, she enjoyed spending time with friends, listening to music, going to the cinema and the theatre, looking after her pet cats and maintaining her extensive collection of cuddly toys. All in all, she enjoyed her life.
Whilst on duty as a junior doctor on 28 June 1999, Sonalee suffered an aortic dissection. Although she was transferred to St George’s Hospital for immediate surgery, she passed away after suffering a cardiac arrest on the morning of 6 July 1999.
Having experienced first-hand the impact that Marfan syndrome can have on a loved one, we know how important it is that those with this condition have it recognised promptly and are able to access treatments that will prolong and improve the quality of their life. Sonalee’s father was a Consultant in Emergency Medicine, so as a family we had the advantage of having a ready source of medical insight into Marfan syndrome; not all families of those with the condition will have this though, so it is vital that they have access to information and support about the condition. Over the past 20 years, the Sonalee Laboratory has been doing sterling research work into Marfan syndrome and many families are benefiting as a result. That is why we are so pleased that the Marfan Trust continues its work in these areas.
( The meaning of “Sonalee” is “Pot of Gold” )