A BALLYCLARE woman and her four-year-old son are doing their bit for the fight to save children’s cardiac services at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.
Jennifer Graham from Bellevue Place, whose son Tyler McCusker was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome - a rare heart defect - is backing the Children’s Heartbeat Trust’s Hands Up campaign to retain child cardiac services at the hospital’s Clark Clinic.
Children’s congenital heart services at the Royal Victoria Hospital are under threat of closure on the grounds that they are no longer sustainable. But Jennifer says such a move would be a devastating blow to the many families from across Northern Ireland, including her own, who use the clinic’s vital services.
Tyler, who is now a pupil at Ballyclare Nursery School, had to undergo a lifesaving operation at Birmingham Children’s Hospital when he was just three days old. He has been back to Birmingham for further procedures since, and is expected to undergo more major surgery later this month.
Between operations he has been looked after at the Clark Clinic, where he has to go every few months for tests and check-ups.
“The Clarke Clinic means everything to us; they’ve helped us so much since Tyler was born,” Jennifer told the Times. “I was petrified to bring him home, but they gave me the confidence to bring my seriously ill child home.”
The clinic provided Jennifer with a TV link so that doctors and nurses were able to do daily checks on Tyler’s condition remotely.
“That was how they caught on that Tyler’s condition was going down hill and that he needed his second stage operation. If it wasn’t for that machine I wouldn’t have known that something was wrong and that he needed attention.”
Tyler suffers from poor circulation and gets tired very quickly, and Jennifer says he will need a heart transplant by the time he’s a teenager - meaning it’s even more important to the family that children’s cardiac services are retained in Belfast.
“As far as I know they’re going to take away the services the Clark Clinic provide for children with cardiac problems,” the mother-of-two continued.
“There are a lot of children out there born with cardiac problems and they are wanting to make it that they’ll all have to go to hospitals in England or down south for treatment, which puts a lot more pressure and stress on families. You go over there and you’ve no family or friends to talk to and they’re bringing your child in for a lifesaving operation and they tell you that they might not make it through the operation and you’ve no-one there for support, it’s very tough.”
Jennifer is hoping the Health Minister will listen to the Hands Up campaigners and retain services at the clinic.
“There are a lot of children in Northern Ireland that do need this service. We need this service and a lot more research into all children’s cardiac conditions,” she added.
Jennifer and Tyler are raising money for the Children’s Heartbeat Trust, which helps provide equipment and resources at the Clark Clinic.
They held two street collections in Ballyclare in December, raising £330, and two bag packing events in Asda in December and January, adding another £1,082 to their fundraising total.
Nine fearless family and friends will complete a sponsored abseil down the Europa Hotel in Belfast on February 24, and on March 2 the family are organising a special night in the Comrades Club with hypnotist Gareth Fulton followed by a disco, raffle and an auction. Items up for grabs include a signed Manchester United football and tickets to the Girls Aloud and Olly Murs concerts at the Odyssey Arena.
Tickets for the event are priced just £8 and are available from the Comrades Club or from Lookin’ Good salon in Ballyclare.
“All the local businesses and the people of Ballyclare and across Newtownabbey have been fantastic. I can’t believe how generous people have been. Myself and Tyler I would just like to thank the generous people of Newtownabbey for helping us raise so much money,” Jennifer added.
Anyone who would like to support Jennifer and Tyler in their fundraising effort can make a donation online at http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/tylersheartbeat