It has been a rock of support to the families of thousands of children suffering from heart problems that require lifesaving operations.
And Leeds’ much-loved Children’s Heart Surgery Fund (CHSF) this weekend celebrated its 30th anniversary with a special ball paying tribute to donors, staff, survivors and those who tragically lost their young lives at the city’s Congenital Heart Unit through the years.
Featuring an auction, appearances from Leeds United bosses and Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake, the #BecauseOfYou black tie ball raised more than £44,000 to go towards the invaluable work the charity does supporting the city’s children’s wards.
Dozens of guests packed into the Aspire Leeds events venue, in Infirmary Street on Saturday, as CHSF chief executive Sharon Milner opened proceedings with an emotional speech marking the occasion.
The anniversary comes just days after the YEP revealed the £450m expansion plans by NHS bosses for Leeds General Infirmary, which would see a new children’s hospital being built in the city centre.
Mrs Milner, who has been involved with CHSF for 11 years, spoke of her pride after the ball success at the weekend.
“The feedback we’ve had has been lovely and I’m really proud,” she told the YEP.
“We wanted it to be fast moving and energetic, but at an intimate venue which is why we chose Aspire [a smaller events venue] instead of a hotel.
“It was a really nice celebration of the last 30 years but also looking forward to the future because there’s a lot still to do.”
The charity’s 30-year milestone is also being marked ahead of the opening of a new hybrid heart surgery theatre next year at Leeds General Infirmary.
CHSF launched a Keeping the Beat campaign, backed by the YEP, to help raise £500,000 to fund equipment for the theatre, which will offer life-saving surgery to babies and children with congenital heart disease.
At the ball on Saturday, high-profile attendees included ex Yorkshire umpire and charity ambassador Dickie Bird and leading figures from Leeds United. Among those representing the football club, which chose CHSF as its charity partner for the current season, was managing director Angus Kinnear and director of football, Victor Orta.
Mrs Milner, 48, said the 30-year milestone for CHSF had underlined the “phenomenal” support the organisation has amassed from people across the region. That support proved vital, when the NHS announced plans in 2012 to axe the city’s children’s Congenital Heart Unit, meaning families would be forced to travel to Newcastle or Liverpool for care.
Following years of fighting, through the YEP-backed Save Our Surgery campaign, health bosses last year revealed that new guidelines – already met by the unit - meant it no longer faced closure.
“What a journey it has been,” Mrs Milner said.
“I’m just really proud - we’ve come so far.
“Getting through all the difficulties we’ve had, the new theatre and the retention of the heart unit. The support from the people of Yorkshire has been phenomenal.
“It’s such a good celebration now for so many reasons.”
A total of more than £44,048 was raised on the night for the charity on Saturday, through donations, live and silent auctions with guests.
Among items auctioned were INR kits, electronic devices used to test blood and prevent strokes by avoiding clots.
Some £14,000 was to buy 70 kits, unavailable on the NHS, and will fund them for the next three years, meaning many patients won’t have to travel for routine tests on blood in hospital that can instead be done at home with the devices.