Town families join ‘Hands Up’ march

Lurgan Families on the march for heart surgery in Belfast. Picture by Darren Kidd /
Lurgan Families on the march for heart surgery in Belfast. Picture by Darren Kidd /

HUNDREDS of people took to the streets on Saturday to support a campaign to retain a children’s heart surgery in Belfast.

Several local families were involved in the ‘Hands Up’ march from the Children’s Hospital in Belfast to the Health and Social Care Board headquarters at Linenhall Street.

Among them were Joanne and Gerard Clifford, whose three-year-old son Liam was rushed to Belfast’s Children’s Hospital after it was discovered he had a hole in his heart six hours after he was born. The couple have the specialised children’s unit to thank for saving their son’s life and have given their full backing to the campaign to save the surgery.

As well as taking part in the march they’ve been carrying out their own fundraising. For the past two years Gerard has been joined by friends to walk the same route taken by Liam’s ambulance from Craigavon Hospital to the Royal.

Prior to the first walk in 2011 Gerard told the ‘MAIL’: “Liam was born in Craigavon Hospital. It was discovered six hours after he was born that his pulmonary value was closed and he had a hole in his heart. This news turned the best day of my life into one of the worst.

“Dr Bell and her team in Craigavon stabilised him and then he was taken to the Royal. He was born at 3.30 in the morning and was in Belfast by 12.”

Gerald said: “We had him christened in the hospital. He’d started to lose oxygen because the value wasn’t open. At 10 days old they put a wee stent in to allow his heart to stay open.”

Liam was in hospital for 17 days and underwent a number of operations.

Gerald said: “I was trying to think of something to do to raise money for the Children’s Hearbeat Trust who work alongside the Clark Clinic. I came up with the walk to follow Liam’s journey from Craigavon Hospital to the Clark Clinic.”

Gerard will do the same again this year on March 9. To help Gerald raise money for the children’s charity click on

His wife Joanne said of Saturday’s march in Belfast: “It was a brilliant day. We didn’t expect so much support. Four MLAs from the health committee turned out. The intention was to raise awareness and raise the profile within the media and I think we did that.”

Sarah Quinlan from Children’s Heartbeat Trust said: “The march is a clear demonstration to our health service commissioners that the future safety of children in Northern Ireland relies on the maintenance of heart surgery at the Children’s Hospital in Belfast.

“Any steps to remove emergency and planned surgery to England would place lives at risk as well as placing immeasurable emotional and financial strain on families.
“The message from doctors, nurses, parents and children to the Health Service commissioners is that their focus should be to ensure this happens through the strengthening of provision in Belfast as part of an all-Ireland surgical network.”

Meanwhile, some mothers have been inspired to get a ‘Heartbeat’ tattoo to raise awareness of the necessity of the Children’s Heart Unit in Belfast.