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Swansea student in triathlon challenge for Heart Research

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A student at University of Wales Trinity St David is taking on UWTSD Swansea Triathlon on 28-29th May to raise vital funds for the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and put a positive spin on what’s been a tough time for her family.

Sophie Taylor, originally from Cardiff, who is studying a BA in Product and Furniture Design at the university’s Swansea campus, decided to raise money for the BHF because her sister Hollie’s partner has a heart condition and is grateful for the medical research and treatment which has enabled him to live a happy life.

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Alex Martin, who now lives in Abergavenny and is originally from Hereford, found out he had congenital heart disease just before his 24th birthday during a medical examination when he was in the process of joining the army.

Alex was born with a bicuspid aortic valve, and the discovery meant he couldn’t sign up. But thanks to progress in science, surgeons were able to replace his heart valve, giving Alex a future with his partner, Hollie.

Alex says, “From a very young age I’ve always wanted to join the army, however, this was turned on its head at the age of 23. After undergoing an army medical check, it was discovered that I had heart valve disease and I had to have open heart surgery to replace the valve. Through the diagnosis and surgery my girlfriend Hollie has been my rock. We’ve been together since we were eighteen and our relationship has never been stronger.

“When Sophie approached me about doing a triathlon last year, I was super excited for her. Like everything, it was postponed, and here we are less than 2 weeks away from Sophie attempting her first multi-sport event. It was made even more special when she told me, that she wanted to do it for me! When I say, ‘me’, I mean on behalf of me for the BHF. I thought, ‘what a lovely idea,’ and was more than happy to help in any way possible. Be it training advice or letting her use my kit for the big day. I could not be prouder of her and cannot wait to see all the hard work pay off on race day.

“Without people like Sophie doing events like this and raising money for the BHF who knows where I would be. So, thank you Sophie – Now let’s go and smash race day!”

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Alex and Hollie

Sophie says she’s taking on the challenge to turn a potentially negative situation into a positive one, “Life so far for my family hasn’t been easy and my mental health has suffered. When we found out about Alex’s condition it was a big strain on my sister and I saw how much it affected her. Myself and Hollie are very close and have always been rather active, but this is one of the biggest things I have ever done in my life. I can’t say it’s been easy juggling my second year at university and training as I have had to balance my time well; but it’s the smile on my sister’s and Alex’s face that will make this all worth it as this is just the beginning of what I want to do for the British Heart Foundation.

“I think Alex is the main reason I am doing this as he’s always been inspiring for me when it comes to sport as he’s always encouraged me to explore in different activities, and since his operation he has been limited to the activities he can do. So this is me doing it for him and showing myself also what I am capable of.

“I just want to give something to those who are battling every day, because if we all did the same the world would be a different place.”

She adds, “Since it was established the BHF has helped halve the number of people dying from heart and circulatory diseases in the UK each year, but sadly every day hundreds of people still lose their lives to these conditions. It’s only thanks to support from people like us that BHF-funded researchers can help create new treatments. £24 could pay for two hours of research by an early career scientist, but every pound helps so I wanted to take on this challenge to do as much as I can for people living with heart conditions.”

Alex’s partner, Sophie’s sister Hollie says, “I could not be prouder of my sister for getting out there and doing something she has never done before. More than anything I would like her to be proud of herself and realise how far she has come. Like many students, Soph has been struggling with her mental health since starting her degree during the height of covid. It really took its toll on her. However, she has used this triathlon as a challenge to help her overcome her struggles.

“When Sophie mentioned she would like to do the Triathlon for the British Heart Foundation, Alex and I were choked by the gesture, as the charity has been of huge support to us and our families over the last few years.

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“In November 2019, Alex was sat in an army medical room unaware that he was waiting to be told that his life was not going to turn out how he planned it to be. The medical uncovered the signs of a congenital heart condition known as a bicuspid aortic valve which caused the dilation of his ascending aorta. Through many consultations and appointments, it was clear that Alex required urgent treatment.

“In October 2020, with a number of setbacks due to the coronavirus global pandemic, Alex finally underwent open heart surgery at the age of 24. Since, his surgery, Alex has made a speedy recovery, and although the dream of an army career has been halted, he is able to live his life as close to normal as possible and looks to join Sophie in her next Triathlon Event, whenever that maybe.

“Both our families have recognised that without the support, research and aid offered from the British Heart Foundation and the cardiac specialist, the outcome of Alex’s story would be very different.”

Jayne Lewis BHF Fundraising Manager said: “We are so grateful to Sophie for supporting the BHF’s research. For more than 60 years the public’s generosity has funded BHF research that has turned ideas that once seemed like ‘science fiction’ into treatments that save lives every day. But millions of people are still waiting for the next breakthrough.

“Today in Wales around 340,000 people are living with the daily burden of heart and circulatory diseases. We urgently need the public’s support to keep our lifesaving research going, and to discover the treatments and cures of the future. It is only with donations from the public that the BHF can keep its lifesaving research going, helping us turn science fiction into reality.”

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To support Sophie, go to: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/sophie-taylor91

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Mayor of Llandovery raises over £2k for air ambulance after surviving freak cycling accident

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The Mayor of Llandovery in Carmarthenshire has raised over £2,000 for Wales Air Ambulance after surviving a freak cycling accident that left him unconscious at the side of the road and saw TWO air ambulances sent to his aid.

Mayor Handel Davies and his wife Margaret raised £2,280 during the annual Mayors Charity Ball.

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The successful ball, which included an auction of rugby related paraphernalia and a raffle, also raised funds for Llandovery Hospital League of Friends.

Over 110 guests enjoyed an evening of entertainment, which included ‘an excellent address’ from Wales Air Ambulance chair of trustees David Gilbert. Over £4,500 was raised during the evening for the two good causes.

The Mayor and Mayoress presented the cheque to David Gilbert at a recent base visit at the Wales Air Ambulance’s headquarters in Llanelli.

The mayor has had personal experience of the essential service the Wales Air Ambulance provides after the Charity’s medics were called out to him during the pandemic.

Handel was involved in a freak accident when a dog ran out in front of him whilst out cycling. He was knocked unconscious for 15 minutes and despite two air ambulances being called out to him, luckily for Handel he didn’t need to be airlifted to hospital.

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Mr Davies said: “A sheepdog literally appeared from nowhere at full speed in the blink of an eye hitting the front wheel of my bike at right angles causing me to fall immediately. It happened so quickly I do not remember hitting the road, but the eyewitness commented that had I not been wearing a helmet I would not have survived. The shattered interior of the helmet is evidence of this.

“It took 6-9 months to really recover and get over the impact, which following another serious cycling accident when I was 18, has led me to decide to ‘hang up’ my bicycle and instead attend ‘spin classes’ at the local leisure centre.”

A cheque for £2,280 was presented to Wales Air Ambulance by Mayor of Llandovery, Cllr Handel Davies

The Wales Air Ambulance Charity needs to raise £8 million every year to keep its emergency helicopters in the air and its rapid response vehicles on the road.

The 24/7 emergency service offers advanced critical care and is often described as a ‘Flying ED’. The on-board consultants and critical care practitioners are highly skilled and carry some of the most pioneering medical equipment in the world. They can deliver blood transfusions, administer anaesthesia, and undertake emergency operations at the scene of the incident, before flying the patient directly to specialist care. 

Reflecting on why the 24/7 Charity was chosen to benefit from the Mayor’s charity Ball, he added: “I have the utmost respect for the incredible and invaluable work the Wales Air Ambulance undertake and as we live in a beautiful part of north Carmarthenshire next to road which is very popular with both cyclists and motor bikers, over the last 25 years we have seen many accidents along this stretch of the A4069 particularly at weekends.

“It seems that almost every weekend during the summer months a Wales Air Ambulance flies overhead to attend to an incident.”

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Jane Griffiths Wales Air Ambulance’s Community Fundraising Manager said: “It was lovely to meet the Mayor and Mayoress of Llandovery during their recent base visit. They’ve raised a fantastic amount for two important causes and we’re extremely grateful for them choosing the Wales Air Ambulance as one of the charities to benefit from the Mayors Charity Ball.

“It’s lovely to hear that the mayor has recovered from his freak accident, and we wish him well for the future. Your support of our lifesaving Charity is much appreciated and will help us to continue to be there for the people of Wales when they need us most.”

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Action for Children and Swansea Council unveil new caravans for supported families

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Action for Children and Swansea Council have unveiled three brand new caravans for supported families at Llanrhidian Holiday Park, Gower on Thursday 23rd June.

Swansea Council has provided the funding for the caravans for Action for Children to help support families with children with disabilities who use their short breaks service in the Swansea area. 

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The caravans were officially opened by Cllr Louise Gibbard, Swansea Council’s Cabinet Member for Care services.  She said: “Everyone loves a short break on Gower with its opportunities to enjoy brilliant scenery and fresh air.

“Now disabled young children and their families will be able to get a wonderful change of scene together rather than having to go on holiday separately, which has often been the case in the past.

“Working together with Action for Children, we’ve purchased the caravans near each other on a holiday site in Llanrhidian. They are fully kitted-out to make sure the children and their families get the best possible short break experience.

“Action for Children, who already do a lot of great work supporting children with disabilities and their families, will operate the caravans and assist the families while they’re there.

“It’s a really good, new initiative and it’s great to see this kind of partnership between the council and Action for Children delivering the best for our community’s disabled children and their families.”

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Cllr Gibbard (top right) with the Action for Children and Swansea Council teams who made it happen (Image: Action for Children)
Shaun and Natalie with their son, Leo at the caravan launch (Image: Action for Children)

Caroline Lewis, Action for Children’s short breaks practice manager, said: “Our families face very difficult challenges every day and we are delighted Swansea Council has worked with us to provide these wonderful facilities.  The caravans will provide a much-needed break in beautiful surroundings with fully accessible amenities for children with disabilities. 

Caroline added: “The value of a break from your everyday routine is priceless and I’m sure our families will relish all the Gower has to offer and make lovely new memories.  We are very grateful to Swansea Council for their incredible support and generosity in making this happen.”

(Lead image: Action for Children)

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Reverend’s grand gesture to team that performed life-saving surgery

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A retired reverend geared up for a challenge by cycling 100km to raise funds for the Morriston Hospital surgical team he says saved his life.

Aled Williams underwent a five-hour operation at Morriston Hospital in November 2019 after an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) was detected.

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Less than three years later he was back at the hospital but for a much happier reason – to present a cheque for £1,000, which will be put towards training surgeons of the future.

An AAA is a bulge or swelling in the aorta – the main blood vessel that runs from the heart down through the chest and abdomen.

It can be dangerous if not detected early. It can get bigger over time and there is a risk it will burst, causing life-threatening bleeding.

AAAs do not usually cause any obvious symptoms, and are often only picked up during screening or tests carried out for another reason.

That was the case with Mr Williams, who was asymptomatic and whose diagnosis came purely by chance.

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He said: “The process began when I read a newspaper article regarding an AAA Screening Programme which was being run by Public Health Wales for men of 65-plus.

“I took the initiative, rang the office in Swansea and was immediately offered an ultrasound scan at my local surgery in Lampeter, where a medium-sized AAA was detected.

“The monitoring of my condition then continued on a three-monthly basis for the ensuing three years or so, until the aneurysm had developed into a large one in August 2019.

“I was then strongly advised to undergo an operation to remedy the situation.”

Those at a higher risk of getting an AAA include all men aged 65 with conditions such as high blood pressure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, high cholesterol, a family history of AAA, cardiovascular disease, stroke or if they smoke or have previously smoked.

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Aled Williams (right) was joined throughout the cycle challenge by his daughter Lois and son Rhun (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

The screening programme has been running in Wales since 2013. All men in the year of their 65th birthday are invited for an ultrasound scan to detect if there is an AAA present.

How an AAA is managed depends on its size; an annual scan if it’s small and a three-monthly scan if it’s medium.

However, once the AAA reaches a certain size, surgery is recommended to stop it getting bigger or bursting with potentially life-threatening consequences.

Following successful surgery, which was carried out by Morriston’s vascular surgery team, Mr Williams spent nine days recovering in hospital before returning home.

Then he set his sights on showing his appreciation for the treatment he received.

The keen cyclist got into gear and on his bike as he looked to raise money for the vascular department by completing 100km (62 miles) over four days.

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Accompanied by his children Lois and Rhun, their route started in Llanelli’s Millennium Coastal Path and headed along the Carmarthenshire coast, covering Burry Port and Kidwelly.

Their efforts paid off, with their initial target of £500 easily surpassed.

“I decided to acknowledge in some small way the life-saving treatment, together with a wide range of tests and consultations pre-operation, which I had received so swiftly from the NHS,” said Mr Williams, who served Llanelli, Boncath, Llanddewibrefi, Lampeter, St David’s during his time as reverend.

“I hit on the idea of the cycle ride as a means of giving something back to those who had given me so much. The path was perfect and not so taxing for a man in his early 70s!

Aled Williams presents consultant Kamran Mohiuddin with a cheque for Morriston Hospital’s vascular surgery department (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

“We were delighted to have raised £1,000 and I must acknowledge the generosity of everyone who donated.”

Since completing his cycle challenge, Mr Williams has returned to Morriston Hospital. This time, however, it was in far different circumstances.

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With cheque in hand, he presented Kamran Mohiuddin, the consultant who performed his surgery, with the £1,000 donation.

“The generous donation has been deposited in the Vascular Surgery Fund at Morriston,” said Mr Mohiuddin.

“This will be used to help train future vascular surgeons.

“It is always a good feeling to see patients do well. It was a pleasant surprise to see Mr Williams a few years after the surgery.

“We are very grateful for the fundraising that Mr Williams and his family has done for the vascular surgery department.”

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Following his visit, Mr Williams added: “I shall forever owe Mr Mohiuddin a debt of gratitude. Also the standard of care at the vascular department was second to none.

“One hears so much negativity about the health service, belying the fact that many good things do happen.

“I can honestly say that my experience throughout the process was excellent from beginning to end.

“I have the utmost respect for Mr Mohiuddin, and not only on account of his professional skill and expertise.

“From our first meeting, he displayed a calm and compassionate attitude, while explaining in detail every aspect of my condition and the various steps of the treatment required.

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“Despite the obvious seriousness of the process, he was able to instil confidence in one such as myself, whose experience of hospitals and major operations was virtually non-existent.

“Their expertise mean I have regained my strength and feel as vibrant as I did pre-surgery.”

(Lead image: Swansea Bay NHS)

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