Support packs for travelling heart families launched

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Local MLAs joined Julie Flaherty, mother of little Jake Flaherty who passed away in 2013, in Parliament Buildings last week at the All Party Group on Congenital Heart Disease to launch the first ever dedicated support packs for families travelling out of Northern Ireland for heart operations.

‘Jake’s Ladybird Bags’, named in honour of little Jake are the first specialised kits for families travelling to hospitals outside of Northern Ireland for treatment.

The bags include a range of useful supplies including toothpaste, socks and toiletries. Julie hopes that the child-friendly design, inspired by Jake and his favourite animal, will give comfort to many families in the years ahead.

She said: “Jake’s Ladybird Bags canprovide comfort and support for parents and children as they go through difficult hospital visits away from home. Jake’s spirit was an inspiration to us all and I hope this will continue to let families going through what we went through know someone is thinking of them.”

Speaking at the launch, Sarah Quinlan, Chief Executive of Children’s Heartbeat Trust said: “These bags will provide practical support to families from Northern Ireland who have to travel to hospitals in Dublin and in England for treatment for their young children. Thanks to Julie’s generosity, Jake’s memory and inspiration will travel with families today and in future as they take these difficult journeys.”

Sarah was speaking as the All Party Group on Congenital Heart Disease met at Stormont for its final meeting of 2015. This followed a meeting between the charity and Health Minister Simon Hamilton last week. At the meeting Sarah outlined the extent of the problems with waiting lists, the continued delay in implementing both the all-Island congenital heart disease network and a Children’s Heart Centre in Belfast.

“Earlier this year the previous Health Minister committed to funding a Children’s Heart Centre in Belfast and this followed an earlier commitment to implement an all-island paediatric cardiology network. Months on and progress is extremely slow.. In addition, waiting lists locally to see a

cardiologist continue to increase which is unacceptable.

“Movement in the next six months is vital if we are to avoid a situation where children face ever lengthening waiting lists and where the vast majority of babies and children have to continue getting on a flight to receive their heart operations in England.”

The meeting was attended by East Derry MLA Cathal O’ hOisin and North Antrim MLA Robin Swann.

If you are a family with a heart child travelling to England or Dublin or you know of one, contact Children’s Heartbeat Trust by calling 028 9031 2228 or e-mailing cathy@childrensheartbeattrust.org to get your Jake’s Ladybird Bag.

For more information on the work of the charity you can also visit their website at www.childrensheartbeattrust.org.