FIFTY years ago, Leeds heart surgeon David Watson was facing a crisis.
He was terribly frustrated by the inadequacies of treatment options, as well as the limited aftercare which could be provided. At that time, there was a 70 per cent mortality rate for heart surgery.
It was the death of a young patient on the operating table which galvanised his determination to take action. The tricky surgery the boy had undergone was successful - but afterwards, medics couldn’t stop his bleeding.
Mr Watson was appalled, and immediately started raising money to improve care. His initial approaches to the local health authority and to funding bodies in London were unsuccessful, so he turned to the Yorkshire Evening Post and its readers for help.
Their generosity made all the difference as following publicity through the paper, donations started pouring in.
His vision, supported by the people of West Yorkshire, led to the formation of Heart Research UK – which is still based in Leeds but works throughout the country.
Mr Watson’s dream to make heart surgery safe has now come true and though heart disease is still Britain’s biggest killer, more people are living with it because of research that has helped to improve treatment and the quality of life for heart patients.
This year, Heart Research UK is celebrating its 50th anniversary and an event tomorrow night in Leeds will commemorate the organisation’s numerous achievements.
Barbara Harpham, national director of Heart Research UK, said: “In our 50 year history, many new operations and treatments that we now take for granted, may not have happened when they did without research paid for by our charity.”
To mark its anniversary year, Heart Research UK has launched an appeal to raise £50,000 for residential camps for youngsters with heart conditions.
The stays are designed to enable children to learn how to exercise safely, as activity is vital but often parents are cautious about letting their little ones join in with sports and games.
For families like Imogen Tankard’s, the camps could make a huge difference.
Imogen, from West Park, Leeds, was diagnosed with a serious heart condition at just six months old. She was admitted to hospital after becoming increasingly unwell, but doctors did not realise what was wrong until equipment paid for by Heart Research UK was used to scan her heart, with alarming results.
“Imogen was in the last stages of her life,” her mum Vicky Dalby said. “She was rushed straight to intensive care.”
The tot was placed into an induced coma and then underwent open heart surgery. Three weeks later, she was discharged and the improvement in her health was immediate.
Imogen is now six and does not need further surgery, simply regular monitoring.
Her mum said she is a very active little girl, within medical guidelines.
“We have had a lot of good information and I feel really reassured,” she added. “I can give Imogen as much of a normal life as possible.
“She can play with her friends and do the things she wants to do. The heart needs exercise and it’s best to keep Imogen healthy.”
Vicky said they were backing fundraising for the heart camps as they were crucial to give families the knowledge to allow their children to exercise.
“We are very lucky to have Heart Research UK – their expertise has given us confidence. It’s lovely knowing what Imogen can do, rather than what she can’t do.”
The opening of children’s heart camps in Yorkshire will be the last piece of a four-year jigsaw.
In 2013, research commissioned by Heart Research UK found current exercise advice given to child heart patients across the country was inconsistent, despite the positive impact that physical activity could have.
So the following year, the charity developed a toolkit of information on what type of activity children should be doing. Each kit is tailor-made by the child’s cardiologist and enables youngsters to play a fuller part in activities.
The next stage in the project was organising a masterclass for experts and now, the charity has launched a £50,000 fundraising appeal to develop residential heart camps – the first of their kind in the UK.
Hosted in locations such as Lineham Farm in Leeds, children and families will spend a few days with specialists who will get them exercising in a safe environment at a level to suit their condition. The stays will be free, so all youngsters can benefit.
Barbara Harpham added: “Imagine the assurance and confidence they will take home and the memories of a weekend together where, perhaps, for the first time, a family went on a bike ride knowing it was one of the best things they could do for their child. These camps will give lessons for life.”
To donate to the fundraising appeal, readers can give in various different ways:
* Visit www.heartresearch.org.uk/support
* Call 0113 234 7474.
* Post a cheque, made payable to Heart Research UK, to Heart Research UK, Suite 12D, Joseph’s Well, Leeds, LS3 1AB.
* Text HRUK17 and the amount you wish to give, such as £10, to 70070.