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Toddler’s dad steps out to help heart charity

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Swansea stonemason Mathew Mariani and a group of intrepid friends have trekked 90 miles non-stop, raising around £12,000 for a charity which supports his daughter.

Little Esme, now 18-months-old, has a congenital heart condition, which was diagnosed when she was just ten days old. She had open heart surgery at six months and may need further treatment as she grows up.

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The charity Heart Heroes, which has a Hub in South Wales, provides support for children with congenital heart conditions, and their families. Esme’s mum, Emily Bowen, has just become the Hub coordinator, running events and meet-ups for families, so they can help one another.

Mathew, 34, along with seven friends decided to walk from Singleton Hospital, where Esme was born, to Bristol Royal Infirmary, where she underwent her surgery – 90 miles in total, which the group completed in 31 hours, walking non-stop.

They were encouraged along the way by videos sent to them from some of the Welsh national rugby team. There to cheer them at the end were Esme, and mum Emily, 29.

Emily Bowen and daughter Esme supporting Matthew’s epic fundraising walk

“Esme was born on New Year’s Day and had only been home for five days when we noticed her breathing wasn’t right, so we took her into an out-of-hours clinic. They sent her straight to Morriston Hospital where she was put into the high dependency unit. There was even talk of airlifting her to Cardiff, because she wasn’t stabilising. Fortunately, they managed to get things under control and she was later moved to Cardiff,” said Mathew.

Esme has AVSD – complete atrioventricular septal defect – a condition where there are holes between the chambers of the right and left sides of the heart, and valves controlling the blood flowing between them may not be formed correctly. The surgery she underwent closed a hole between the chambers and formed a new valve.

“The whole of January was crazy. Emily and I were just passing each other as we took it in turns to be with Esme, because at the time there were Covid restrictions in place. The only time we were together at the hospital was for her diagnosis. Esme was in Cardiff for a couple of weeks, then back to Morriston again, so she was in hospital for about a month altogether.”

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Arriving at Bristol Royal Infirmary

So far, Mathew and his friends have raised a staggering £12,000 for Heart Heroes through the walk and other fundraising activities.

“We heard about the charity when we were in Bristol and we met another Hub coordinator, who was on the ward at the same time as us. We have found it really supportive, because unless you have gone through this experience yourself it’s hard for people to understand.”

Kelly Cornish, Heart Heroes founder, said she was very grateful to Mathew and his friends for their fundraising. “We rely on donations to run all our events and activities, and this is a significant amount for us. Not only that Mathew and Emily, are helping to spread awareness of Heart Heroes so we can help more families like theirs.”

To make a donation to Mathew’s fundraising, visit https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/mathew-mariani2.

Lead image: Mathew Mariani, second left, setting off on 90-mile walk

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Fishguard woman to become first person with spinal cord injury to swim English Channel without a wetsuit

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Paula Craig MBE will attempt to become the first person with a complete Spinal Cord Injury to swim the 22 miles of the Channel without a wetsuit, taking on the challenge to mark the 21st anniversary since she was injured.

Fishguard-born Paula will swim as part of a relay channel swim team for Aspire, the national charity that supports people with Spinal Cord Injury.

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Her previous swimming challenges include the Solent in 2014 and The Dart 10k in 2019. An attempt at swimming the Channel with the team last year was thwarted by bad weather.

In May 2001 Paula, an elite marathon runner training for the GB national triathlon team and a serving police officer with the Metropolitan Police, was knocked off her bike whilst training.

Paula in training

Following the accident Paula was supported by Aspire and says, “The support and opportunities provided by Aspire in the days and months after my injury were invaluable both in terms of my mental and physical health.”

She subsequently went on to compete in the London Marathon in a wheelchair (making her the only person to have run and pushed the London Marathon), and came second to Tanni Grey-Thompson.

She also competed as a wheelchair triathlete at an international level and continued working as a policewoman, becoming a DI and working in the murder squad, internal affairs and counter terrorism.

In 2005 she was awarded the MBE for her services to policing.

Asked about the impending swim Paula reflects, “21 years ago this year my life changed in an instant when I was hit by a car whilst out cycling, leaving me paralysed from the waist down.

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“As a police officer and marathon runner, I had no idea what the future would hold but, thanks to Aspire and the amazing work they do, I was able to return to both and to live life to the full.

“To mark the anniversary of the accident and to celebrate my achievements of the past 20 years, I will be taking on the waves, the cold water and the jellyfish to raise much-needed funds so that Aspire can continue its vital work helping those affected by Spinal Cord Injury.”

The team of six, known as the Aspire Mutts in recognition of Archie, Paula’s cockerpoo and constant companion, will be leaving Dover at 01.30 am 4th August.

Paula has raised over £20,000 so far for the charity. To find out more or to sponsor her swim, visit her JustGiving page.

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Kidney charity surpasses £50k milestone thanks to annual golf fundraiser

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Golfers from across South Wales came together at Clyne Golf Club to compete and raise funds for Swansea-based kidney charity, Popham Kidney Support, at its annual Golf Day last month.

The competition, organised by Kim Loosmore, raised an impressive £10,020.72, which will contribute to the effort the charity is making to raise £130,000 for the refurbishment of the Children’s Kidney Centre Outpatient Department in Cardiff.

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The total raised at the event has meant that Popham Kidney Support has surpassed a significant milestone of £50,000.  

Since 2016, Popham Kidney Support has been the sole beneficiary of the annual golf competition, with the focus of the fundraising to support Children with kidney disease on various projects. This years project being to aid with the charity’s long-term goal of providing the total funds for the refurbishment by March 2023. 

Currently, there is very little natural light in the department, making it a dark environment. The refurbishment will maximise the natural light, creating a more welcoming, warm and comfortable place for children to undergo treatment. The aim is to create a more inviting, calming and receptive area for both children with kidney disease and their families. 

This year’s event saw a record 28 teams enter, continuing the trend of year-on-year increases. Popham Kidney Support puts this largely down to the stellar organisation and promotion of the event by Mr Loosmore, and meant that the charity has now reached £50,000 of its £130,000 target.  

The winners on the day were the Secret Beach Bar & Kitchen, followed by The Dark Horse Mumbles, Gower Auto’s, Shaftec Automotive Components and women’s team – The Lively Birdies. In addition to the golfing aspect, the event also included a fundraising dinner, presentation, raffle and auction.  

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Jo Popham, CEO of Popham Kidney Support, said: “We’re once again delighted with the immense support from everybody involved who have helped us raise a fantastic total of £10,000. This is an amazing contribution to our target, and has meant we have surpassed the significant milestone of £50,000.

“We’d also like to say a huge congratulations to the winners: Secret Beach Bar & Kitchen. We are grateful to everyone who took part for their generosity, with particular thanks going to Mr Kim Loosemore for his hard work in once again organising and promoting the event.”

Kim Loosmore, Annual Golf Day Organiser, said: “I hope everyone enjoyed as it was a wonderful occasion. It was fantastic to see another great turnout, with 28 teams entering this year. Thank you to the participants and supporters for their support and generosity.

“The money raised goes to a great cause, and it’s wonderful to be able to help the Popham Kidney Support in their effort to raise £130,000 for the much-needed refurbishment of the Children’s Kidney Centre.”

Lead image: Popham Kidney Support Golf Day organiser, Kim Loosmore (left), presenting the winner’s trophy to The Secret Beach Bar & Kitchen in Swansea.

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Jiffy leads 50-mile challenge for Singleton’s cancer patients

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A charity ride championed by a Welsh sporting legend is making a real difference to people receiving pioneering cancer treatments in Swansea’s Singleton Hospital.

In September, former rugby union and league star Jonathan Davies will once again lead Jiffy’s Cancer 50 Challenge.

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This is a 50-mile ride from Cardiff to Swansea, with the funds raised donated to cancer services at Velindre and Singleton hospitals.

As President of Velindre Fundraising, Jonathan – Jiffy – has supported patients and their families at Velindre Cancer Centre since 2008.

Last year he decided to extend this, launching the first Jiffy’s Cancer 50 Challenge for both Velindre and the South West Wales Cancer Fund.

It was a huge success, raising £118,000 in sponsorship which was shared equally between the two charity funds.

At Singleton, home of the South West Wales Cancer Centre, the donation went to the newly-established Radiotherapy Research Fellow Fund.

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Consultant clinical oncologist Dr Sarah Gwynne helps lead the research on radiotherapy treatment in Swansea.

She said: “We are really grateful for the money that was raised last year through Jiffy’s Cancer 50 Challenge.

“We have been able to use this money to continue to fund trainee oncologists who will spend a period of time with us undertaking research.

“Some of the things we have done with the research is look at the role of protons.

“This is a new way of delivering radiotherapy which may help to spare the normal tissues around the tumour while effectively hitting the cancer, which could help reduce side effects.

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“We are also currently looking at how radiotherapy can be used to treat stomach cancers.

“It’s an area where radiotherapy isn’t used as much as other areas in the body.

“So we are looking at how we might be able to safely use radiotherapy that will become part of a clinical trial in the future.”

Dr Gwynne explained that research in radiotherapy undertaken elsewhere has also benefited patients in Swansea.

For example, during Covid, Singleton was able to implement the findings of a UK study of patients receiving breast cancer radiotherapy.

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This allowed the safe reduction in the number of radiotherapy treatments from 15 over a three-week period to just five during a single week.

Dr Gwynne said: “This is clearly beneficial to the patient as it reduces the number of times they have to come to hospital with no difference to the outcome.

“It has transformed how we treat breast cancer.

“But there are also benefits to the service. If we can treat patients in a week rather than three weeks, this helps with waiting times.”

Just some of the 500 cyclists who took part last year, heading past the South West Wales Cancer Centre at Singleton Hospital (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

The 2022 Jiffy’s Cancer 50 Challenge takes place on Sunday 4th September and is open to 1,000 riders – double last year’s number.

Entry costs £50, which includes a cycling jersey, and riders are being asked to raise a minimum of £50 in sponsorship. Again, proceeds will be equally divided between the two cancer funds.

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Charity has been at the heart of the South West Wales Cancer Centre throughout its 18-year history.

It opened in September 2004 following a massive fundraising campaign by people from across Swansea, Neath Port Talbot and West Wales.

They raised more than £1 million, which contributed to additional funding by the NHS to ensure the centre was built.

It provides access to modern chemotherapy and radiotherapy units. The centre also has an inpatient ward at Singleton, and a research unit.

The cancer centre’s charitable fund is one of 265 managed by Swansea Bay Health Charity.

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This is the health board’s official charity, supporting patients, staff and services within Swansea Bay. Donations to the various funds are used for equipment, research, training and patient care.

The Jiffy’s Cancer 50 Challenge is an opportunity to continue that legacy, and anyone wanting to join can sign up at cancer50challenge.co.uk.

It is sponsored by Andrew Scott and supported by Peter Lynn and Partners, Cycle Solutions and European Telecoms Solutions. The ride is organised by White Rock Events.

Jonathan said: “What a great success it was last year. We hope to make it bigger and better every year – more importantly, raising money for both great charities.”

Dr Gwynne added: “The money that was raised last year, and the money that will be raised this year, is really important.

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“It allows us to continue the research that we have been doing in Swansea that will benefit not only the patients of South West Wales but will help the population of the UK and further afield.”

Lead image: Flashback to 2021 and Jiffy’s arrival at Singleton Hospital at the end of the challenge (Image: Swansea Bay NHS)

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