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Belfast Marathon 2018: Causes close to our heart inspiring efforts



Tribute walk: Andrew Gallaher and partner Patricia Carrick are walking in memory of his late father, Freddie

Tribute walk: Andrew Gallaher and partner Patricia Carrick are walking in memory of his late father, Freddie

Freddie Gallaher

Freddie Gallaher

Running the good race: Damian Heverin

Running the good race: Damian Heverin

Damian's late mum Bernie with his son Daniel

Damian's late mum Bernie with his son Daniel

Allianz colleague Martin Birnie, who passed away

Allianz colleague Martin Birnie, who passed away

Tribute walk: Andrew Gallaher and partner Patricia Carrick are walking in memory of his late father, Freddie

As thousands of people of all ages pound the pavement in the Deep RiverRock Belfast City Marathon today, many are doing it for a cause close to their hearts. Stephanie Bell talks to two men who have each experienced loss in the past year and found a way to cope by taking part in the event to raise money for charity.

'I'll never be able to repay the hospice for Dad's care'

Andrew Gallaher (48) and his partner, Trish Carrick, who live in Newtownabbey, are doing the Belfast Marathon Walk in aid of the Northern Ireland Hospice

Newtownabbey sales representative and father-of-three Andrew Gallaher will today complete the marathon's eight-mile walk in memory of his father, Freddie Gallaher.

Freddie (70) passed away from oesophageal cancer last June, six months after being diagnosed with the disease.

Freddie was cared for at the Northern Ireland Hospice, and Andrew was "blown away" by the level of attention that his father received.

Today, he will be walking to raise funds for the hospice in tribute to his dad and as a thank-you for the care he received in his final months.

Andrew, who has three children, Laura-Lee (29), David (26) and Andrew (21), will be joined on the walk by his partner, Trish Carrick.

He says: "Dad took the hiccups over Christmas 2016 and couldn't get rid of them. He went to the doctor and they put a camera down into his stomach and also took a biopsy.

"A week-and-a-half later, he was told he had cancer and needed a scan."

Andrew, who was very close to his dad, attended almost all of Freddie's appointments with him and was shattered that he was not there a week later when his dad was told the devastating news that he was terminally ill.

Freddie's oesophageal cancer had spread to his lungs and liver. He was offered treatment that, he was told, might give him between six and 12 months.

But having watched his sister and sister-in-law both go through cancer treatment, he refused it. Andrew says: "Dad said that he didn't want to put us through it and that he also wanted a quality of life in his final months.

"The family pulled together and I got advice from social workers and from Macmillan Cancer Support, who were brilliant. We were advised to contact the hospice.

"At first, Dad went into the hospice one day a week. They sent a driver for him and that really reassured him that he wasn't on his own. He then went in for a week's respite and he really enjoyed that.

"When he started to really go downhill, he went in again and spent his last three weeks in the hospice, where he passed away.

"What they did for us as a family and for my dad is something which, if I walked every year for the next 50 years, I still wouldn't be able to repay.

"I know it sounds odd, but it is such a lovely place, and at a time like that when you need people around, you will not find a better place to be."

Freddie was a huge music fan and the hospice provided him with a CD player so he could listen to his favourite genre, country and western.

In memory of his father, and his love of music, Andrew recently purchased 19 radio/CD players for each room in the hospice's inpatient unit.

Now he plans, through the marathon, to raise as much money as he can in order to support the charity.

Andrew says: "Everyone, the doctors and nurses and cleaners who came into dad's room, loved to hear his music.

"They only had one old CD player, which he was using, and his music brought him so much comfort that I wanted all the patients to have that.

"Dad was very brave and accepted what was coming, and his music really helped him in the end."

Andrew and his partner are keen walkers and have been out most nights, walking between three and four miles in preparation for today's marathon.

Andrew's family has rallied round to help him raise money - so far, he has come up with around £700 for the hospice.

He says: "It has been tough without my dad.

"There is not a day goes by that doesn't have a sad bit in it. I think about him every day.

"I think you take so much for granted and you don't appreciate what you have until it isn't there.

"It is the silly things you miss most, like not being able to ask his advice or just talk to him.

"The marathon will be a bit of a challenge, and I imagine it will be a wee bit emotional as I am doing it for Dad and for the hospice."

'The death of colleague taught me how fragile life really is'

Damian Heverin (39) lives with his wife Jennifer and their children Daniel (4) and Emily (2) in Belfast. He is running the marathon in aid of Northern Ireland Chest, Heart and Stroke.

Damian Heverin is taking part in his third Belfast Marathon in memory of a work colleague whose life he tried to save.

The keen runner and family man was left traumatised after Martin Birnie (54), from south Belfast, collapsed and died in front him at work despite Damian's best efforts to save him.

Damian volunteered to be one of the first aiders in his workplace, Allianz Insurance in the Gasworks, not expecting to have to deal with anything more serious than a mild burn or a simple papercut.

But, tragically, the unthinkable happened last October when Damian, an insurance underwriter, was summoned after Martin collapsed at his desk.

Damian followed his training to the letter: clearing the crowd that had gathered around Martin and checking his airways while another colleague dialled 999.

Worried that Martin was unresponsive, he started chest compressions while waiting for paramedics to arrive at the scene.

Despite further efforts by the paramedics, however, Martin sadly passed away from a heart attack.

Damian and his colleagues were left stunned and deeply affected by the loss of a well-liked colleague, and he turned to running to cope.

Having taken on the Belfast City Marathon twice before, he decided he would do it for a third time in memory of Martin for Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke (NICHS), and he aims to raise £2,000 for the charity.

Damian says: "I find running very therapeutic because it gives me time to process and reflect upon recent events.

"It also made me think about how fragile life is and to make the most of all it has to offer with my family, my wife Jennifer and our two wonderful children, Daniel and Emily, to whom I'm totally devoted. Road running is also the perfect keep-fit activity, because it's so accessible, free to do and ultimately rewarding.

"I'm extremely lucky to work for Allianz.

"Not only were they very supportive of me after Martin's passing, they are also very flexible with my working hours, meaning I can venture out along the Lagan towpath on my lunch break to continue my ongoing training.

"That has helped me to stick to my schedule, keeping up the distances I need to cover in preparation of taking on the massive 26.2 mile challenge on the day."

Tragedy also hit Damian's family early this year when his mum, Bernie Heverin (70), who had suffered a series of mini strokes, took ill and passed away on January 14.

Again, Damian took to road running to process his thoughts and feelings.

With the help of his work, which provides counselling services, he and his family are managing the grief and are taking the positive steps of raising some much-needed funds for NICHS.

The charity has become vitally important for Damian as he seeks to help people and save lives through their work.

He says: "Mum took ill just before Christmas. She had suffered TIAs (transient ischaemic attacks, or mini strokes) in the past, but we didn't think it was anything serious.

"As a precaution, we took her to hospital, where they kept her in overnight. My dad, a few of my brothers and myself took it in turns to be with mum, believing she'd be sent home in good time. I got a call from my brother telling me to come to the hospital straight away. But sadly, mum had already passed away while undergoing a procedure to stop internal bleeding.

"It was as though time stood still. It was a horrendous shock to us all, from which we are still recovering".

Damian also plans to run the Belfast half marathon in September in memory of his mum, again raising funds for NICHS.

For more information on the Northern Ireland Hospice, visit www.nihospice.org, and Northern Ireland Chest, Heart & Stroke at nichs.org.uk

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