Campaigners hail heart appeal

Campaigners last night put out a renewed plea to people across the community to dig deep to help see revolutionary heart surgery fully implemented at Norfolk's flagship hospital.

Campaigners renewed their plea last night to people across the community to dig deep to help see revolutionary heart surgery fully implemented at Norfolk's flagship hospital.

The Balloons4Hearts appeal will help equip a second catheter laboratory at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, which will mean the unit can offer angioplasty treatment to unblock clogged arteries in the heart to virtually every Norfolk patient who needs it, and avoid people having to make the 80-mile journey to Papworth Hospital, near Cambridge.

With one cathlab already in action, a limited angioplasty service has been running since June, but a second treatment room will mean many more Norfolk patients will benefit.

The N&N is paying £1.6m toward the £2.6m project, but a further £1m needs to come from the public.

The £1m Balloons4Hearts appeal was launched in September and within two weeks - because of significant donations - quickly reached the £400,000 mark.

But since then, donations have steadied and the amount is just over £550,000.

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Last night, a presentation was held at the N&N to rally support and raise further funds, along with a tour of the angioplasty suite and a demonstration of a procedure.

The revamped Balloons4Hearts website was also launched.

Balloons4Hearts appeal co-ordinator Madeleine Skipper said: "This appeal really does involve people right across Norfolk, from King's Lynn to Yarmouth. If we get this facility, it will mean people do not have to make the journey to Papworth."

The initial plan was to have the angioplasty service fully up and running by this summer but the target date is now January 2008.

Dr Leisa Freeman, clinical director of the N&N's department of cardiology, said: "We hope to start making the space of the second lab next week and start delivering the majority of angioplasty from January or sooner."

The delays have been to allow a more suitable space to be identified, but so far the N&N has already conducted 240 angioplasties.

When it has two cathlabs, the process of performing the angiogram to identify the blockage and the angioplasty procedure to clear it will become much more efficient. The N&N could do about 800 cases a year - 95pc of those required by Norfolk patients. The rest will still need to go to Papworth for medical reasons.

One of the cardiologists, Liam Hughes, is planning to do a sponsored row from Holland to Southwold in July to raise funds, and last night he confirmed Olympic rowing champion Sir Matthew Pinsent had backed the attempt he would be making with three friends.

Today, Norwich City stars including Darren Huckerby, Andy Hughes and Dion Dublin will be showing support for Dr Hughes - the squad's cardiologist - to celebrate the launch of the appeal's new website.

To donate, send cheques made payable to Norfolk Heart Trust (Balloons4Hearts) to 215 Unthank Road, Norwich NR2 2PH, or visit www.balloons4hearts.co.uk