One very special boy... first birthday bash for wee Joe, the face of our baby hearts appeal
The mother of the little boy who helped launch the Belfast Telegraph baby heart campaign has spoken of the "wonderful" milestone of her son celebrating his first birthday.
Kerri Degnan from Larne told of her happiness after Joe, who was born with a life-threatening congenital heart defect last August, turned one-year-old after a "rollercoaster" 12 months.
Joe was born with a double inlet left ventricle. Babies with this condition have only one working pumping chamber (ventricle) in their heart.
"It's just been amazing to see him turn one," she said.
Kerri, a civil servant, spoke as the Chest Heart and Stroke (Northern Ireland) also revealed it had hit a milestone – reaching a £172,000 funding target for vital research into congenital heart disease in 10 months.
Kerri said reaching the target had been overwhelming.
Joe was one of the faces of the successful campaign launched last December. In his short life he has already undergone two major open heart surgeries.
His first was when he was just six days old and the second in May in England. But after weeks of recovery, Joe returned and celebrated his birthday on August 14.
"It was brilliant, it was everything a first birthday should be," Kerri said.
"We wanted it to be very special for him. We had all his family round him.
"It was even more poignant a time for everybody to get together and reflect on what Joe has been through.
"There was lots of love and fun."
Kerri said Joe was now "thriving" back in his Larne home.
"He is fantastic, walking and wrecking everything," she said.
"He will have to have another operation when he is about four years old, but will just have a check-up every four months now at the Royal Victoria Hospital."
The Belfast Telegraph joined forces with Northern Ireland Chest, Heart and Stroke to boost its Help Our Babies Hearts Appeal – and helped to raise the first £20,000 in a month.
The study, to be carried out in Belfast, aims to discover why some children are born with problems in the way their heart has formed.
She said: "For something that started when he was just a few weeks old and he is now a year old, it has grown with him.
"To reach that target is very special.
"He was such a part of it and has touched a lot of people."
Elley Martin, fundraising manager at the charity, said it was delighted by the support from across Northern Ireland.
"We would like to say a huge thank you to each and every one of our campaign supporters."
Congenital heart disease is the most commonly occurring serious congenital abnormality affecting children. It is also one of the most common birth defects and affects between eight and 10 out of every 1,000 babies. In Northern Ireland, over 200 babies a year are born with congenital heart disease. Baby Joe Degnan was born with double inlet left ventricle. Babies with this condition have only one working pumping chamber (ventricle) in their heart.