Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill helps a local charity present Ryan O'Connor with a new wheelchair that will transform his life

By Ricky Thompson

The life of a young man who lost his legs will be transformed thanks to the efforts of a local charity.

Despite the announcement that all of Northern Ireland's children's heart surgeries will now be carried out in Dublin, a new chapter in caring for young people with congenital heart disease (CHD) here, began on Tuesday.

Guests saw the presentation of a new handmade carbon fibre Olympic grade sports wheelchair to 20-year-old Ryan O'Connor, who lost both of his legs due to CHD.

The wheelchair was funded by the charity JT Inspires and allows Ryan to play various sports with more ease and stability. He said: "It's really fantastic what this charity is doing to help sufferers of CHD.

"I really can't thank them enough for everything they've done for me and what they continue to do for others with the disease".

The chair will transform Ryan's life as he hopes to compete in the transplant games, join The Ulster GAA Wheelchair Hurlers Team and 'The Eagles' wheelchair basketball team.

JT Inspires is a charity set up by Alan and Patricia Tate, whose son Jonathan died of CHD in 2012.

It aims to provide means by which sufferers of the disease can use exercise to improve their quality of life, as a Jonathan did.

The charity also facilitated the presentation of a state-of-the-art exercise bike to the Royal Victoria Hospital's children's unit.

The bespoke cardio machine, which has been medically adapted, was officially handed over by the charity's patron, Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill.

The bike will aid young patients with heart defects in improving their health and keeping them active.

It will be used to conduct research on around 100 five to 15 year olds who suffer with CHD and it is hoped the machine will demonstrate that physical fitness can increase the life expectancy of CHD patients until donor hearts can be found among younger patients.

Mr O'Neill said: "It's an amazing thing what they're trying to do here - to raise funds for children with CHD, make their lives better and give them hope after they've had transplant surgery.

"Ryan is a great example - what sport has done for him and how it's transformed his life is evident. His whole outlook is so much more positive now."

On Tuesday it was announced that children's heart operations in Ireland will be delivered on a cross-border basis from a single surgical centre in Dublin.

While scheduled surgical services will cease in Belfast, a cardiac centre of excellence will be set up in the city to provide diagnostics and after-care to northern-based children with congenital heart defects.

The single all-Ireland surgical unit will be based in Our Lady's Children's Hospital at Crumlin.

Research into the lifestyles of those with CHD will continue in Belfast.

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