Children's Heart Surgery Fund appeals for donations to buy life-saving equipment for hospital unit

A Leeds charity has launched a major fundraising campaign to buy a potentially life-saving piece of equipment for the city’s congenital heart unit.

Sunday, 21st March 2021, 1:57 pm

The Children’s Heart Surgery Fund (CHSF) is issuing a clarion call to its supporters across the city to help back its bid to buy an MRI Bike for the unit at Leeds Children’s Hospital.

The bike will be the first of its kind in the UK to undertake vital research using advanced imaging techniques looking at how the heart functions during exercise.

It will also be used to help treat patients with congenital heart disease (CHD) in assessing how much exercise is safe for their hearts.

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Sharon Milner, CEO of the Children's Heart Surgery Fund which today launches a campaign to buy an MRI Bike for the congenital heart unit. Picture: Tony Johnson

The charity is appealing for the public’s help to fund the final £5,000 needed to buy the £58,000 bike, with the remainder hoped to be raised through businesses, grant-making trusts and foundations.

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"It is vital that clinicians can encourage safe exercise in adult patients who were born with heart disease, particularly those who were prevented from exercising in childhood.

"This revolutionary equipment will show in detail how well the heart is working under stress, resulting in better treatment and patient pathways for the countless adults living with congenital heart disease in our region."

Dr Malenka Bissell, NIHR Clinical Lecturer with a toy MRI scan they use to show children attending the congenital heart unit at Leeds Children's Hospital. Picture: Gary Longbottom

During exercise, people’s heart rate and blood volume both increase, allowing more blood to reach muscles faster around the body.

Any narrowing of vessels or valves in the heart in patients with CHD can have a critical impact on this flow of blood, leading to potentially devastating consequences.

Currently, heart patients in Leeds are generally assessed at rest or on a treadmill hooked up to a heart trace.

Occasionally some may be given a drug to artificially increase the heart rate while undergoing an MRI scan.

How the MRI Bike will look.

“It’s incredibly exciting because it’s so important to see what the heart looks like in our patients during exercise.

“Because a lot of them are teens or young adults and we ask them to live a normal lifestyle yet only assess them at rest, lying down. We need to know how well the heart is working in exercise.”

She added: “We do have patients who have symptoms on exercise but if we’re looking at them at rest, everything looks ok. So having the exercise bike would allow us to understand where these symptoms are coming from and whether we need to do anything.

Stephen Reynolds, who is back running thanks to the Leeds congenital heart unit. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

“It’s giving patients the reassurance that it’s fine to exercise and giving their parents the reassurance that it’s fine to exercise.”

The bike will also help doctors establish when the right time is to fix any heart issues - a decision which is usually a delicate balance of factors for each patient.

Dr Bissell said: “Sometimes it’s difficult for us to decide when is the right time but if someone is very active, we can look at what the heart does during exercise to see if the narrowing does become worse and whether they will potentially benefit from having surgery.”

It is hoped the bike will also help adult patients who now struggle with obesity, often due to their early years as a young heart patient when little was understood about exercise and its safety.

“Obesity pandemic is everywhere and definitely in our adult patients. Hopefully we will see the benefit effect on them - becoming more healthier and a positive effect on their heart as well,” said Dr Bissell.

The team’s research findings will also be shared to potentially influence practice nationally and internationally - helping to further boost the unit’s reputation as a centre of excellence for patients with CHD.

The Yorkshire Evening Post has been supporting the Children's Heart Surgery Fund through our Have a Heart Campaign.

To donate to the cause visit: https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/mri-bike

**For former Leeds heart patient Stephen Reynolds, being able to return to his love of running was a “big milestone” in his recovery.

The 39-year-old dad-of-two was training for a half-marathon when he suffered a cardiac arrest in July 2019, as reported in the Yorkshire Evening Post last year.

Doctors at the congenital heart unit went on to diagnose him with a rare heart defect - which he had unknowingly lived with since birth - and after high-risk open heart surgery and three-week hospital stay he was discharged to continue recovering at home.

But key to both his physical and mental recovery was being able to exercise so in January 2020 Stephen underwent a ‘stress MRI’ - taking a drug to simulate how the heart reacts to strenuous exercise while undergoing the MRI.

He said the MRI Bike would be a vast improvement on that experience.

“It certainly feels like a more natural way to test how the heart is functioning and I can certainly see the benefits based on my own experiences.

“This particular MRI scan back in Jan last year was a success and was the signal for the consultants to give me the all clear to start running again which was a big milestone for me.

“Recovery has continued well and for me and running has become even more important for my own wellbeing over the last year as a way of keeping a clear mind amidst the reality of balancing Covid, homeschooling and working from home – that makes me even more grateful for all the amazing work that was done by the teams at Leeds to ensure a full recovery.”

Stephen, of Knaresborough, is now training for the Great North Run, planned for September this year, where he will be raising money for the Children’s Heart Surgery Fund.

“I was training for a half marathon back in 2019 when I collapsed and this is my attempt at completing what I started a couple of years back.

“I want to run for CHSF to raise awareness of all the amazing things the charity provides from supporting congenital heart patients and their families through to funding research and buying equipment such as the bike, as well as raise some funds to contribute towards all these great things.

“My CHD was only discovered by chance as a result of a cardiac arrest so anything that can be done to detect at a much earlier stage is really important to me.”

To donate to campaign to raise money for the MRI Bike visit: https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/mri-bike

*YEP's Have a Heart campaign

The Yorkshire Evening Post launched a Have a Heart campaign to help the Children's Heart Surgery Fund (CHSF) reach its £1m target for donations last year.

The Fund provides vital support to the congenital heart unit at Leeds Children's Hospital.

Shortly after the coronavirus pandemic hit, CHSF was forced to issue an urgent plea for donations after losing a "significant portion" of its yearly income.

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