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Why we'll be stepping out in pyjamas for a good cause


Before they raise money for Chest, Heart and Stroke with the Wake Up Pyjama Walk at Stormont, Kerry McKittrick talks to Julie McAllister, who had a heart attack five years ago, and Jacqui Seymour, whose little grandson was diagnosed with a heart defect before he was born.

Wearing pyjamas in public? That's a sure-fire way to hit the headlines these days. Even just nipping into the supermarket in your dressing gown will earn you raised eyebrows and 20 minutes on a phone-in radio show.

Imagine the furore there will be then on September 30 when hundreds of men, women and children gather at the Stormont Estate at 9.30am in their pyjamas. This time, however, it'll be for a good cause.

The walk is part of Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke's Wake Up campaign, which aims to highlight the fact that heart disease has been one of the biggest killer here for the past 25 years. The charity is aiming to make this a full-on family event, so anyone can take part.

There will be music, face painting, balloon modelling and a healthy brunch, sponsored by Mace, for all participants.

The route is dog and family-friendly, so there's no reason not to take part.

Here we talk to two women about their reasons for taking part in the Wake Up Pyjama Walk.

‘Before going to hospital I said goodbye to my kids because I didn’t think I would make it’

Healthcare assistant Julie McAllister (45) lives in Carrickfergus with husband Derek. They have four children, Gemma (25), Darren (21), Jamie (18), and Emily (8). She says:

I've always done a lot of walking. When my niece started a Tae Bo class and asked if I wanted to go along, I joined and really enjoyed it.

I am a healthy eater and never drank much, but I did smoke about 10 cigarettes a day. I always classed myself as a healthy smoker.

Six years ago, though, I was at a Tae Bo class when I started feeling a bit sick. I walked over to get some water and, as I reached down, I felt a pain in my chest. It felt like an elephant was sitting on me. The pain went along both arms and settled in my jaw.

I phoned my husband and told him to come and get me - our house is five minutes away. When he arrived I told him to take me home and call an ambulance. I wanted to see my children in case I didn't make it.

A rapid response paramedic came, gave me aspirin and said it might be muscle pain. But I thought it was something else because I had never felt anything like it before.

After a doctor had seen me at Antrim Area Hospital, it was confirmed that I'd suffered a heart attack. The doctor wasn't happy with my condition, so I was sent to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast for a dye test in the cath lab.

This revealed that I'd had a spontaneous coronary artery dissection and I was rushed into theatre for a triple bypass.

It was really scary. I kept thinking, 'This is an old person's operation, so how could it happen to me?'

My family were brought in so they could see me before I went in for surgery.

The next two days I was in intensive care and another day in a high dependency unit before being admitted to a general ward.

It was a week later before I was discharged from hospital, and the medics felt I could go home because I had good family support.

Three months prior to having a heart attack I completed a CPR training course, where I learned how to identify all the signs of a heart attack.

All of them happened to me - the heaviness in my chest, the pain in my arm and jaw and the sickness.

I actually said goodbye to my children in the house before going to hospital because I really didn't think I would survive it.

It can take six months for your breastbone to heal where they cut through it (prior to surgery), but I had some problems with the site where the doctors took a vein from my leg for the heart bypass, which meant I had nearly a year off work.

What I do can be quite physical - lifting patients in beds and that sort of thing.

I think it was hardest on my family. My husband had to learn how to do CPR and care for me. He worked nights and didn't know if I would even be breathing when he came home.

I'm in good health now, but it's always in the back of my mind - if it happened once, it can happen again.

Julie out running

My GP sees me regularly, as well as specialists at the Royal. Now I know the signs and all I would need to do is ring 999.

I haven't touched a cigarette since that day and I go to the gym and walk about four nights a week. I try not to eat anything unhealthy at all these days. Otherwise I feel back to normal and I enjoy playing with my grandson, Kobi.

This year marked five years since I had a heart attack. I've started fundraising for Chest, Heart and Stroke because I want to do as much as I can.

All of the money raised is going into research and support groups."

'My grandson Joe had his first operation at just six days old'

Jacqui Seymour (61) is a teacher and lives in Larne. She is married to Jim and has three children, Jonathan (37), Kerri (35) and Laura (34), and four grandchildren, Joe, Grace, Daniel (all four) and one-year-old Dylan. Joe was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, which was diagnosed before he was born She says:

Joe is my first grandchild and he has just turned four. My other grandchildren, Grace and Daniel, are also four and Dylan was born about a year ago.

There has never been any kind of heart condition on either side of the family. My grandparents had heart attacks when they got older, but that was due to their age and lifestyle factors.

We have no idea where this came from, which is why I got involved with Chest, Heart and Stroke - they were doing a baby's heart study and they even used Joe's photo for fundraising - to try and find out where this comes from.

Kerri and William found out when she had a 20-week scan that there was a problem with Joe's heart. The midwives attempted to measure the baby's heart valve but had difficulty finding it during the scan.

At the time they thought there may have been an issue with the scanning equipment. Kerri was referred to see a consultant at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, where Joe was diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome before he was even born.

Essentially, the left side of his heart didn't develop properly, so it can't pump the blood around his body too well. This means the right side of his heart does all the work.

High five: Jacqui Seymour with her grandchildren, (from left) Grace, Joe, who was born with a heart condition, Daniel and Dylan

At least knowing things were going to be difficult let Kerri and William prepare themselves before Joe actually arrived.

He was born on a Monday and then taken over to a hospital in Birmingham for surgery just two days later.

He had his first operation at six days old and sailed through it. However, he got an infection that was quite serious, so he was in hospital for weeks - firstly in Birmingham and then at the Royal, until the medics could manage his condition.

He had another operation at nine months old and, again, he got an infection that nearly killed him. He was in Birmingham again and the hospital staff were really fastidious with his care - only consultants were allowed to tend the wound and change the dressing, and he was on antibiotics. He has to have more surgery next year.

While none of the operations will fix the problem with his heart, they make things a bit easier for Joe.

The thing that will really help him is a heart transplant, which won't be done until he's an adult. We're hoping that by then there will be 3D printer hearts and he won't have to wait for one.

Joe is grand. I mind him every Friday. My three eldest grandchildren were all born within a few months of each other. When they come over to visit, they run and jump around the place. Joe can't keep up with them because he gets out of breath very quickly, but otherwise he can do all the usual things kids do such as drawing, painting and reading - just like everyone else.

He's starting to slow down a bit now and sleeps longer than he used to. Sometimes he can go a bit grey because his heart can't pump enough oxygen into his blood.

Next year's surgery should help with that. It will be the biggest and most severe operation yet, and the toughest one for him to recover from. Since he's four now, he knows what's going on and I think that's makes it more difficult for him.

It's not the case that there's no hope for Joe. If Kerri had been born with this condition, she would have been called a blue baby and would have been dead in five days. The medics couldn't have done anything for her. Now, though, there is the technology to keep Joe alive until they can fix it.

That's why I support and raise money for the Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke. It's a local charity, so all the money raised stays in Northern Ireland.

Everything it does is for people here, so that's why we're all doing the pyjama walk. Kerri and I will be doing it with Joe in the buggy."

The Wake Up Pyjama Walk is at the Stormont Estate on Saturday, September 30 at 9.30am. Entry is £10 per adult and children go free. To take part or find out more details, visit

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