When the Dungiven Bravehearts line up for a charity run in Belfast next week, foremost in their thoughts will be three inspirational young people from the town who have captured their hearts.
The women - nine in total - have been in training for the past few weeks and busy fundraising for the 5/10km run/walk for The Children’s Heartbeat Trust on October 4th.
The women have been inspired by Ryan O’Connor, Hope Donaghy and Bronagh Lavery from Dungiven who have suffered from a heart condition since birth. Their families have all received support from the Trust.
Among the ‘Bravehearts’ is Michelle O’Connor, Ryan’s aunt, who came up with the idea to form ‘Dungiven Bravehearts’.
“I heard about the run on Facebook and tagged Tricia Harkin in it and ‘let’s go Tricia’, and that was it,” said 37-year-old Michelle, who loves sports (running not so much).
Michelle is looking forward to the challenge, nonetheless, and hopes it will give something back to the charity that helped her family and others in Dungiven who helped Ryan, who was born with a congenital heart defect.
After countless surgeries, Ryan finally received a heart transplant in 2012, but tragically had his legs amputated following complications after the surgery.
“Ryan is so special to everybody,” said mum-of-five Michelle. “I’m sure it will be emotional on the day, but in a good way.”
Local schools, including St John’s PS Dernaflaw, St Patrick’s College Dungiven, Gaelscoil Neachtain, Gaelcholáiste Dhoire and St Canice PS Dungiven are helping fundraise by holding non uniform days.
“The schools have been brilliant, just willing to get involved,” said Tricia, who said her inspiration to get involved was her nephew Ryan.
She said when 21-year-old Ryan was ill, the local community was “amazing” and rallied to support the family.
The 40-year-old mum-of-three said: “Ryan means the world to us and, when you think of what he has been through, it is more than many of us will ever go through.”
Tricia said Ryan never complains about anything and remains positive and upbeat all the time, despite what he has been through.
“Dungiven is a great community and everyone was there for Ryan so it’s a way to give back. I really want to thank all five schools for getting involved. They have been fantastic,” said Tricia.
Dolores Donaghy’s daughter, Hope has been through open heart surgery twice - when she was just four days old and eight months old - and faces further open heart surgery in the coming months.
Dolores said her fun-loving four-year-old daughter is “amazing”.
“She’s a typical girl, but she loves sport too. She’s at St Canice PS in Dungiven and she loves school, and she loves the company. For so long she was housebound so she loves all the company now,” said Dolores.
Both Dolores and her husband, James say they have received great support from the Children’s Heartbeat Trust, and found great comfort from sharing their experience with other families going through similar situations.
“The Trust is a big part of our lives so what Tricia and the girls are doing is amazing. Fair play to the girls for what they’re doing, and all the schools too for getting involved. Tricia has a heart of gold,” said Dolores, “and we are so grateful for what they’re doing.”
Toni and Conor Lavery’s daughter, four-and-a-half-year old Bronagh has had open heart surgery. The couple praise the Trust for its support.
“Bronagh is doing exceptionally well, and is in the best form of health she has ever been in,” said Conor. “She is the wee girl now that she was always meant to be - just a wee girl at nursery - and it’s overwhelming when you take time to reflect about people doing this. It’s a big undertaking and, I suppose, it’s very overwhelming. You could be living in a town where you are isolated and no one helps each other, but we are very fortunate in Dungiven,” added Conor.
Ryan, who hopes to start a film and TV course, has inspired everyone who has met and knows him, always smiling and remaining positive. He is currently building up his strength in the hope of getting new prosthetic legs, and is learning to drive so he can enjoy even more independence. He thinks it’s fantastic his family and community are challenging themselves by taking part in the challenge.
Ryan plays wheelchair basketball and hurling, winning with the Ulster team in a tournament in Carlow recently.
“I think it is brilliant what they’re are doing. It’s a great charity, and any money raised is going to help other children and their families. I’m really proud of them all and, I hope to be there to see them crossing the finishing line,” said Ryan, who added: “Everyone has been so good.”