13,000 sign Derry man’s heartfelt online petition

Chairman of Heartbeat NI Irwyn McKibben.
Chairman of Heartbeat NI Irwyn McKibben.

A campaign started by one young Derry man has won the support of more than 13,000 people all attempting to ensure pediatrician cardiac surgery stays in Northern Ireland.

A Facebook petition, calling for the service to be retained in Belfast, was started by Eoin Taylor two weeks ago and already the site is approaching 14,000 followers.

Following a report by Professor Sir Ian Kennedy, the continuation of paediatric cardiac surgery services at ‘The Royal’ is under discussion. Local health support charities and those previously cared for at the Royal Victoria Hospital have joined forces to try and ensure such operations continue to be conducted locally. Eoin Taylor is one such former patient.

Irwyn McKibbin, chairman of Heartbeat NI, and a former Derry City goalkeeper, said that the support generated by Eoin - who underwent heart surgery at the Royal - was “phenomenal” and described the teenager as “a remarkable young man”.

Erin told the Journal that he was very ill when he was born on April 8, 1997 at Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry.

“I was immediately rushed to Belfast with the risk that I might not make it, but I did. When there, I underwent heart surgery.

“At one point my family was told that I would never walk or talk. However, 15 years later, here I am, walking and talking.

“I am very thankful to the dedicated medical staff at the Royal - they made my survival possible. I also thankful to my wonderful family for never leaving my side in the time of need and to God for watching over me.

“Over the years I have had countless surgeries and I have the scars which I wear with pride every single day. My respect goes to those families who’ve had to go through the same as we went through. Belfast has great heart surgeons, so I see no reason to shut it all down.”

Eoin has asked Facebook followers: “Can you imagine having to fly from Northern Ireland to England for your child to have heart surgery? We can’t.

“Think of the many babies that will be born with serious heart defects in Northern Ireland. Think of the many children that will end up dying on their way to England. Do not sit back and let this happen to families who did nothing to deserve such treatment. Use your voice and save lives.”

Heartbeat NI, which offers emotional and practical support to families whose child requires heart surgery, was only too happy to support Eoin’s call.

Mr. McKibbin said that moving some of the services from Belfast to Dublin was more acceptable than if the operations were conducted in England.

“I feel the Health Minister, Edwin Poots, would gain more from additional co-operation with Dublin. And after our discussions with him, I feel that this would be supported at Assembly level.

“The important thing is that we can offer a safe and sustainable service.

“There have always been people, patients, having to travel to England in order to avail of more delicate surgeries. The Kennedy report suggests that 400-500 operations conducted per centre per annum is the requirement for a safe and sustainable operation. Geographically we can’t reach those figures.

“We never approached those numbers. In fact our service conducts 90 operations per year and that is falling by about 10% per year.”

Mr. McKibbin who is also a member of the Assembly working group set up by the Health Board, added: “It is important the right decision is arrived at, this is about protecting lives for years to come. We will continue lobbying and petitioning the public in order that that is the case.”

Mr. McKibbin. who played for Derry City in the early 70s and is also a former Linfield FC goalkeeper, added that his organisaation will continue to meet politicians in order to keep the matter in the public eye.

To sign up to Eoin’s petition search Facebook for ‘Petition to keep Paediatric Cardiac Surgery in Belfast.’