Sunday, 8 July 2012

Leeds Heart Surgery Closure - Time To Get Personal

This week has seen a major blow for the people of Yorkshire by the decision in London to close the Leeds heart surgery unit after a solid 18 months of endless campaigning by some amazingly strong people to get this decision stopped.  Quite obviously, the opinions and feelings of the people who need this unit the most (to be honest this includes anyone living in Yorkshire) have not been listened to.  After reading many reports of this news it actually seems to me that these opinions have actually been completely ignored - almost like the decision had already been made without them.  Because of this I think it's time to take things personal, so here is my story of how important I think it is to keep the unit open....
One of the major campaigners against this decision is my good friend Gaynor Bearder...I have known Gaynor and her husband Tony for around 17 years now and over the last few years since having their second precious child Joel, I have seen them at times go through hell because Joel was born with a major heart condition that has needed specialist care at the Leeds unit.  They have even said goodbye to their beautiful little boy before as they weren't sure that he would wake up due to his illness - now I don't know about you but being a parent myself, even the thought of having to do this with my daughter makes me feel overwhelmingly upset so goodness knows how my fabulous friends have coped.

Being a photographer by trade, Gaynor and Tony rang me one day when Joel was very tiny and asked me to do a portrait of Joel.  What should have been a joyous occasion (everyone loves baby photos right?) turned into one of the most heart wrenching jobs I have ever done when Gaynor explained to me that they wanted some photos doing as soon as possible as they weren't sure that Joel was going to survive.  Naturally, for my friends I said yes straight away and sorted something out quickly, but I have to say, when I put the phone down that day I could have cried.  I just couldn't comprehend what they must have been going through and from that point onwards just hoped and prayed that everything would turn around - its the most awful thing in the world knowing that your friends are in so much pain.

A day or so later, Gaynor, Tony, Joel and their eldest son Lucas came into the studio and we got cracking on the photos.  From the point at which they arrived, I could see the torment and grief in Gaynor's eyes and I just couldn't stand it - but I didn't want them to feel any more upset than they already were so I kept myself upbeat and positive and tried to make the session into a happy, normal kind of family portrait shoot which I think we managed as I had Lucas leaping around in the air having some fun and then took some beautiful pictures of Joel and Lucas together.

After we finished the photos, I hugged Gaynor and said goodbye to them all - not knowing what was going to happen next.  There was only one thing that was certain to me and that was that I was going to put my heart and soul into these photos so that they absolutely loved them and had a record of Joel and his brother together no matter what happened in the coming days, weeks or months.  This particular photo shoot is perhaps one of the most poignant and special in my career and always will be because of what it meant to my friends  - in fact, two of the photos are still some of my favourites today:

Beautiful little Joel!

Beautiful Brothers!
Thankfully, 5 years on, due to the most immense love and care you could ever see from a set of parents and the amazing expert care that he has received from the specialist heart unit in Leeds, Joel is doing phenomenally well.  However, after seeing what my friends have been through - the countless trips to hospital they have made, the sleepless nights and the absolute torment of the possibility of losing their precious little boy, it has hit home to me just how important this unit is.

To have to travel to Newcastle or Liverpool in future for this treatment and care will add an incredible amount of extra pressure on the family of a patient at an already stressful time and should not be allowed to happen.  In this day and age where we put so much into our countries health care should be our right to have easy access to these facilities at the most difficult of times and lets face it - any one of us living in or around Yorkshire could need it one day - you just never know.

After talking to Gaynor a few nights ago though, when she got home from London, she showed me her true fighting spirit once again and even though I knew she would be upset about the decision - she simply stated 'We are down but not out - our fight will go on'. After reading that, I felt so proud of her - to me, Gaynor and the other campaigners are truly inspirational.  The work that they have put in over the last 18 months raising tens of thousands of pounds for the unit as well as fighting this major injustice is just phenomenal.

So, what I'm thinking is that maybe its time for more of us to pitch in and join the fight with them. Any little thing we can do now adds another drop to the ocean of fight and if this gets bigger and bigger, hopefully the powers that be will listen. Until now, the campaigners have had a direct link to the unit, but now it's time for the onlookers to get involved too...after all, many of us have children and many of us may need this unit one's time to join forces with the people already emotionally involved.

So this is why I have shared my personal story as an onlooker of friends in pain - which in turn hurt me. The idea I have had now to help this cause is to collect some personal stories like my own that show the reality of what this unit means to the people who need it - so, if you have a story that will tell of the heartache that this kind of illness has caused and why you think that it would be terrible to make people travel so far when they really need treatment and support nearby, please feel free to either leave a comment on this blogpost below or email me at  I will then pass all of these personal stories on to Gaynor and the other campaigners and hopefully they may be able to use them in the fight to overturn this severely wrong decision.  It's time now that the bigwigs listened to the people who need the unit that they are trying to close so let's make it personal and tell them exactly what effects the closure will have on the real people of Yorkshire!
Time for the bigwigs to listen!

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