New heart centre for children at Royal Belfast is officially opened
A new specialised unit aimed at helping children with heart defects has opened in Belfast.
The centre will provide holistic pre-operative and post-operative care for children needing surgery at the Children's Health Ireland hospital in Crumlin, Dublin.
It has state-of-the-art clinical and diagnostic equipment donated by the Children's Heartbeat Trust.
There is also a family day room, and a quiet space for patients and their families to wait for consultations and test results.
Ulster and Ireland rugby captain Rory Best spoke of how "incredibly special" the Children's Heart Centre at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children is as he opened it in Belfast yesterday, alongside 10-year-old Aimee Brady, who is awaiting a heart transplant.
He said: "Whenever you actually meet the staff, the parents and the kids, it just becomes even more special and to open it alongside Aimee is the most humbling part. She has been through so much, but has a smile on her face and she's just a lovely young girl who's embracing life."
The Belfast Trust has continued its partnership with the All-Island CHD (Congenital Heart Disease) Network to create a "world-class" CHD service across the island with the opening of the new centre.
Sarah Quinlan, CEO of Children's Heartbeat Trust, said the "one-stop shop" will make the process "much more fluid" at what can be an "extremely stressful" time for families awaiting test results.
This was echoed by Best, who stressed the need to "maintain a normal life". He added: "To have this based in Belfast can help you try to live life as normally as you can. To come here in the worst possible circumstances and know you are getting the best possible care on your doorstep is really, really important.
"I know with our kids, whenever something happens they need a little bit of normality to take their minds off what they are going through."
Aimee's mum Valerie spoke of the need for organ donation after having her eyes opened by the situation faced by her daughter, who has been in hospital for 18 weeks awaiting a donor.
"It is so important to donate, because it is something that money can't buy," said Valerie.
"It doesn't matter what you do in life. There's no way I can help her now and you have to rely on somebody else. Before we were in this position I probably wouldn't have thought much about it, but now I can see Aimee and other children waiting for heart transplants and see how sick they are and how much it affects the whole family circle."
CHD Network board chair Dr Len O'Hagan said: "Today over 50% of CHD surgeries are now taking place on the island, with a plan to achieve 100% of relevant surgeries by the end of 2020."
He added: "The CHD Network is rather like the Irish rugby team who all play for their own clubs, North and South, and then come together to pool their skills and experiences to play for our country, just as we all do when we come together from our different hospitals and health systems, North and South, to play for our All-Island CHD Network team."