Little Kyla McConnell has her heart set on becoming an astronaut when she grows up.
The six-year-old Belfast girl has congenital heart disease and has already undergone open-heart surgery twice, as well as having a pacemaker fitted.
But Kyla won’t let her condition hold her back and still hopes to reach for the stars.
Nine-year-old Shay Bradley from Magherafelt would love to be a fireman and, though he has undergone open heart surgery three times, he won’t let congenital heart disease extinguish his dream.
Both children star in a new Northern Ireland wide billboard campaign raising awareness of congenital heart disease – the region’s most common birth defect – and the work of the Children’s Heartbeat Trust.
The unveiling of the awareness campaign coincides with Children’s Heartbeat Trust’s Heart Week, which runs from 16th – 22nd May.
The Children’s Heartbeat Trust represents heart families across Northern Ireland to ensure that children and young people affected by congenital heart disease receive the best care and attention possible.
Children with congenital heart disease often require extra care and attention, particularly after surgery, and the Children’s Heartbeat Trust helps support these children and their families during what can often be a very difficult time. As well as funding equipment for Clark Clinic at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, support provided by the charity can be in the form of family support groups, where local families get together in a relaxed and friendly environment, information sessions and confidential counselling. In addition, Children’s Heartbeat Trust provides financial support to families who have to travel to England for their child’s surgery and gives families the opportunity to use their two holiday caravans to avail of some much needed rest and family time.
Speaking at the launch of Heart Week, Sarah Quinlan, Chief Executive, Children’s Heartbeat Trust, said: “Congenital heart disease is the most common birth defect in Northern Ireland and affects over 200 families each year. From birth these children have to receive specialist care, which puts extra stress on these families. The Children’s Heartbeat Trust’s role is to provide support throughout this time to kids just like Kyla and Shay and their families.
“In the last year we have supported 127 families who have had to travel to England for their child’s surgery, we’ve held family fun days and support group meetings across Northern Ireland, trained 39 parents in paediatric first aid and funded more than 80 private and confidential counselling sessions. And our work doesn’t stop with children, we also work with teenagers, holding summer residentials and events, helping them learn to cope with their condition and to share their experiences with one another.
“We are also working towards securing a dedicated children’s heart centre in Belfast which would deliver the highest standard of care to all heart children in Northern Ireland before and after their surgery.
“This year our awareness campaign aims to highlight the bright future that children with CHD have. Everyone has a dream about what they want to be when they grow up, and heart kids are no different. Open heart surgery won’t hold Kyla and Shay back, and the Children’s Heartbeat Trust has it’s heart set on helping heart kids in Northern Ireland grow up to fulfil their dreams.”
For further information on the Children’s Heartbeat Trust visit www.childrensheartbeattrust.