Father to take part in gruelling race after daughter (2) diagnosed with heart condition
IT ONLY took a heartbeat for Derry man Liam Wilson to sign up for the firmus energy City of Culture Triathlon - one that belongs to his two-year-old daughter.
Orlaigh, who will celebrate her third birthday later this month, has a condition called supraventricular tachycardia, also known as SVT. Her dad is competing in the gruelling race - which involves a 750m swim in the River Foyle, cycling 20km twice around the Craigavon and Foyle Bridges and a 5km run across the Peace Bridge from the city centre, finishing in St Columb's Park - in aid of the Children's Heartbeat Trust, which has supported Orlaigh and the family.
"A few months after her first birthday we had taken Orlaigh to the out-of-hours doctor one evening as she had a bad tummy bug," Liam said.
"During the routine examination the doctor checked and rechecked her heartbeat and immediately alerted us to the fact that her heart was racing at 250 beats per minute (bpm) instead of 100/120bpm."
After further investigations and a lengthy stay at the specialist Clark Clinic in the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, Orlaigh was diagnosed with SVT, which means that her heart beats too rapidly - an extremely dangerous condition should her heartbeat rate rise.
"Orlaigh is on medication and will remain so to try to control this. She may be suitable for an operation when she is around five but we will have to see how her condition develops," her father said.
"If she does need the operation, it could potentially be carried out in Belfast but heart surgery is under threat here so we may need to take her to Dublin or Birmingham at that point.
"Orlaigh is a toddler now and she knows to come over to us if she feels that her heart is beating a bit quicker than it should be. We have to watch her to make sure that she doesn't get over-excited or run around too much as that can make her heart rate rise dangerously and would mean an emergency trip to hospital."
It is a constant worry for the family, Liam says. But at the same time Orlaigh's parents want her to be able to enjoy herself to the full and not to miss out on fun activities.
The Children's Heartbeat Trust has been a source of support since Orlaigh's diagnosis and Liam values the assistance the organisation has provided over the years.
"They have been just amazing," he said.
As well as high-profile campaigns such as 'Hands Up' which involves lobbying for heart surgery to remain in Belfast, the charity also works closely with parents.
There are groups across Northern Ireland where families can go and chat to other parents with children who have similar heart complaints, something that for the Wilsons has been "a great comfort".
"They host fun days, subsidise caravan breaks and hold information events with expert speakers," Liam said.
In addition, the charity provides financial support for resources and equipment at the Clark Clinic in the children's hospital in Belfast, taking its lead from what clinical staff require. It has donated items from chairs for parents on the ward to helping to fund pioneering equipment in the Heartbeat Suite. The charity also funds family accommodation above the clinic.
"This has been invaluable to us as we have to travel such a great distance to take Orlaigh to the clinic," Liam said.
"It eases a bit of worry at this traumatic time for us and Orlaigh as she knows we are close by."
Liam has been training hard for what is to be his first ever triathlon and is attending a blast boot camp three days a week at 6.30am while Orlaigh is still sleeping.
"I am delighted on a personal level that my fitness has increased and I have trimmed down a bit since I joined the North West Triathlon Club. I have got the 'bug' now so I already have triathlon number two in my sights," he said.
"Most importantly though, I hope that the money I raise by taking part in the City of Culture Triathlon will help the Children's Heartbeat Trust to provide even more support to the Clark Clinic, families and children with heart problems. They have helped us immensely through some very difficult times."
The firmus energy City of Culture Triathlon takes place on Sunday June 23, beginning at 9am in Derry. Registration is now closed.
? To support Liam in his triathlon challenge and donate to The Children's Heartbeat Trust, see uk.virginmoneygiving.com/LiamWilsonChallenge.