Larne ‘Heart Hero’ fights against heart disease with charity

Joe and Kerri.
Joe and Kerri.

NI Chest Heart and Stroke has assembled some of the country’s local heart heroes to lead the fight against heart disease this Christmas, including Joe Degnan (6) from Larne.

Joe, who was born with a congenital heart defect, and his mum Kerri, join an impressive team of community fundraisers, corporate partners, cardiac consultants and others who are either living with or have lost a loved one to heart disease.

The group is encouraging the public to join them in their hero quest to raise vital funds for two heart projects in Northern Ireland, one to support local research which could detect early signs of heart disease and the other to introduce a brand new, dedicated heart care service for Northern Ireland.

Heart Strong is NI Chest Heart and Stroke’s new heart health and recovery service which will be piloted in early 2020. The first of its kind and wholly dedicated to people living with heart disease in Northern Ireland, it will bridge the gap between rehabilitation after treatment and getting back to normal life, helping the person grow beyond their current capabilities.

Patrick Anderson, Head of Heart Strong at NI Chest Heart and Stroke said: “Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in Northern Ireland, and 74,000 people are living with it. Most of those who are living with this disease have been diagnosed and signposted to us through their regional Health Trusts.

“However, once they have completed their cardiac rehab provided by the Trust, many people may feel anxious and worried about leaving behind that supportive environment. Therefore, we have identified the need to create a service which supports them in the longer term to continue to rebuild their life and confidence and start thriving again.”

Joe’s mum Kerri explained: “It is an honour to lend my support to NI Chest Heart and Stroke this Christmas and I hope others also join the fight against heart disease in Northern Ireland.

“When Joe was only two days old, he had to be taken in an air ambulance to Birmingham for life–saving surgery. He was born with a condition known as double inlet left ventricle; affected babies suffer a lack of oxygen to their blood and major organs. While the surgery was considered successful, he continued to have problems.

“Joe’s daddy William and I were living minute to minute, hour by hour as Joe had to have further surgery and was in a critical condition. The whole experience was hard, completely life changing and very humbling. We’ll forever be grateful to the team who saved Joe’s life.

“When we see him now as a happy six-year-old, we feel miles away from those initial days. Joe teaches us something every day.

“It was great to meet everyone else involved in the Local Heart Heroes campaign . We need to help spread the word of the great work NICHS is doing in Northern Ireland. I hope the public will really get behind us this Christmas, and beyond, raising funds to help them continue the fight against heart disease.”

Declan Cunnane, CEO of NI Chest Heart and Stroke added: “We are so proud of the Local Heart Heroes, some of whom not only use our services but wholly support the work we do to fight heart disease. This campaign is so important because it shows the reality that heart conditions can affect almost anyone in our society and reinforces the need for better research and improved services which public donations can fund. On behalf of the charity, I send my heartfelt thanks to our Local Heart Heroes for their involvement and for sharing their stories.”

The public can support the Local Heart Heroes Christmas campaign by texting LOCALHEARTS to 70085 to donate £5.

NI Chest Heart and Stroke has also organised an array of festive frolics for all to get involved in this Christmas, and every penny raised will go into the Local Heart Heroes fund. Secret Santa gifts can be purchased online, while Festive Fundraising Guides can be downloaded to help people create their own festive fundraiser.

There’s also an opportunity to volunteer time as a Community Fundraiser during the many street collections scheduled throughout the Christmas season.

All information can be found via nichs.org.uk/localhearts