Rowers put hearts into charity voyage

MARK NICHOLLS An intrepid crew is stepping up its training regime as it prepares to cross the North Sea to raise funds for a new heart surgery suite at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

MARK NICHOLLS

An intrepid crew is stepping up its training regime as it prepares to cross the North Sea to raise funds for a new heart surgery suite at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

The five-strong group is hoping to make thousands of pounds from the midsummer attempt.

But the crew - led by cardiologist Liam Hughes - is appealing for more sponsorship, particularly from the business community.

“Patients and the public have been hugely generous,” said Dr Hughes, “but the business community is missing a great opportunity to be involved and get a lot of exposure, as well as supporting something that will have a huge impact for the people of Norfolk.”

Cash raised will go towards the £1m Balloon4Hearts appeal that will mean angioplasty procedures to clear blocked arteries can be fully introduced at the N&N.

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At present, only one catheter lab suite is available, meaning the hospital can only offer a limited service. To bring a second into play will cost £2.7m - with £1.7 promised by the N&N, the rest will have to come from charitable donations.

So far £600,000 has been raised - including £60,000 from donations in the last month.

Dr Hughes said: “One of my patients was 65 recently and instead of having presents for his birthday he asked for donations and recently presented me with a cheque for £2,000.”

This week, as the crew practised on the waterways near Norwich, a cheque for £1,000 from the Richard Gurney Masonic Lodge at Wymondham was handed over by treasurer Tony Hawkins and worshipful master Jack Curl, who has had a heart bypass.

Four-time Olympic gold medal rower Sir Matthew Pinsent has also backed the attempt, from the Hook of Holland to Southwold, which is scheduled to take place in late June or early July.

Dr Hughes is joined in the attempt with a crew made up of his wife, Claire; Norfolk police officer Jim Starling; local businessman Gary Steward; and Vicky Burroughs.

They will be aided by a support vessel organised by Trans-Atlantic rower Tiny Little ,from the Alexander Tavern in Norwich, and Richard Williams.

Claire said: “We are working on our general fitness training and trying to get out on the boat twice a week. We are doing reasonably well and generally managing two hours at a time.”

The 140-mile row should take about 48 hours and there are two rowing positions and two mini-cabins aboard the 29-foot vessel.

Once the money is raised, the plan is to have a full angioplasty service up and running by January, which will mean 95pc of Norfolk cases can be carried out in the county. The limited service started last June but the majority of patients still have to make the 80-mile journey to Papworth Hospital, near Cambridge.

Anyone who wants to donate, or companies that wish to sponsor the attempt or even name the boat, can visit www.balloon4hearts.co.uk. Cheques made payable to Norfolk Heart Trust should be sent to 215 Unthank Road, Norwich NR2 2PH, or call Claire Hughes on 01953 603777.

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