Explorer throws lifeline to kids

Sir Ranulph Fiennes unveils heart research unit as nation’s heart charity celebrates success of Healthy Hearts Appeal
Sir Ranulph Fiennes today unveiled the MRI Scanner Unit made possible by the Appeal he launched with an attempt on Everest in 2005¹.

Every day 13 children are born with congenital heart disease and tragically, a number of these will die before reaching adulthood². The MRI scanner, which is located in a specially designed, state of the art Centre at the Institute of Child Health, Great Ormond Street, will purely be used for heart research. It will enable BHF medical professionals to explore heart disease that affects children and young adults helping them develop new interventional techniques with the aim of saving young lives.

The explorer was among a number of the British Heart Foundation’s (BHF) supporters celebrating the success of the BHF’s first capital appeal, which this month reached its goal to raise £2million to fund two vital pieces of technology - the MRI Scanner and a Catheter Laboratory - and the experts needed to run and maintain them for three years³. The Ranulph Fiennes Healthy Hearts Appeal was completed thanks to a number of generous charitable trusts, individuals and corporate partners – Deloitte, Shredded Wheat, Findus, Carillion and the FA.

Professor Peter Weissberg, Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation said, “Each supporter of the Ranulph Fiennes Healthy Hearts Appeal has made a major contribution to helping the BHF find new ways to save children’s lives. The scanner will help doctors diagnose and treat children born with heart defects, but this is only the first step. We badly need more research on the causes of these defects to prevent needless deaths in the future. Together with our highly valued donors we hope to make this happen.”

As President of the Ranulph Fiennes Healthy Hearts Appeal, Ranulph made his attempted ascent of Everest in support of the BHF’s work, despite suffering a heart attack and undergoing a double bypass operation in 2003. He said, “I’m so proud to be a part of the BHF’s achievement. I know first-hand the life-changing difference research makes - my own heart bypass saved my life and has allowed me to carry on doing the things I love.”

GOSH Chief Executive Dr Jane Collins said “We are absolutely delighted with this strengthening of our cardiac research. This is the latest piece of valuable and important support we have received from the British Heart Foundation.”

There is still much to be learned about heart disease – the BHF needs to continue to fund pioneering research to keep thousands of hearts beating, now and in the future. To support the BHF in its aim, please visit bhf.org.uk.

For more information about the opening of the MRI scanner unit and images from the event please contact Annette Richardson in the BHF press office on 0207 487 7172 or email richardsona@bhf.org.uk.

Notes to editors

  1. Sir Ranulph Fiennes attempt to conquer Mount Everest was marred by bad weather and ill health. Despite reaching over 28,000 feet the intrepid explorer was forced to turn back only hours from the summit after experiencing intense breathing difficulties
  2. British Heart Foundation Congenital heart disease statistics 2003
  3. The Catheter Laboratory, when it opens, will be a dedicated centre for cardiac catheterisation (which measures the electrical activity of the heart), essential to the understanding of inherited and congenital heart disease in children.  In the cases of inherited heart disease, such as arrhythmias, the heart is electrically unstable – it is these instabilities that can cause sudden death. 

The MRI Scanner Centre has been jointly funded by the British Heart Foundation, the Oak Foundation and GOSHCC

The MRI Scanner Unit and Catheter Laboratory will enable medical professionals to continue their research into:

Inherited heart disease - hundreds of young adults die each year from conditions that are not evident until it is too late. BHF-funded Professor Bill McKenna is conducting research into the most common inherited heart defect, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is the primary cause of sudden death in the young. An MRI Scanner will help McKenna and his team carry out research into the genes that cause cardiomyopathy
Acquired heart disease - Signs usually only seen in people over the age of 40 are now worryingly being spotted in young children. BHF Professor John Deanfield’s research into how acquired heart disease starts and progresses in children aims to combat this dangerous development. The MRI scanner will enable accurate study of the structure and function of the children’s blood vessels, helping to identify which genes are causal, how environmental factors interact and what difference diet can make
Congenital heart disease - Nearly 5,000 children are born with congenital heart disease every year and a quarter of these may not survive into adulthood. BHF-funded Professor Philipp Bonhoeffer has conducted groundbreaking research into an alternative to open-heart surgery, non-invasive valve replacement, which avoids the complications and dangers. Vital to subsequent developments is this equipment

Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children is the largest centre for treating children with cardiac conditions in the UK.  With the UCL Institute of Child Health, it forms the largest centre for research into childhood illness outside the States

The British Heart Foundation is leading the battle against heart and circulatory disease - the UK's biggest killer. The Charity is a major funder and authority in cardiovascular research. It plays an important role in funding education, both of the public and of health professionals, and in providing life-saving cardiac equipment and support for rehabilitation and patient care.
For more information on the BHF, visit bhf.org.uk
Annette Richardson
Press & PR Officer (Income Generation)
British Heart Foundation
14 Fitzhardinge Street
Direct line: 0207 487 9476
Press Office line: 0207 487 7172
Out of hours: 07764 290 381

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