Former Middlesbrough star Graeme Souness recalled how a cardiac MRI scanner helped save his life when he kicked off a massive fundraising effort to keep the region’s heart unit at the cutting edge of medical technology.
The football legend returned to Teesside to launch the Loving Hearts Raffle, aiming to raise £100,000 in support of the South Cleveland Heart Fund’s Cardiac MR Appeal.
TV pundit Souness, who also starred as a player for Liverpool, Sampdoria and Rangers before managing several clubs including Newcastle United, underwent major heart by-pass surgery in 1992 when he was only 38 years old.
He recalled: “I will be forever grateful not only to the people who carried it out but to the scanning equipment that detected the issue in the first place.
“I was 38, active coaching Liverpool and extremely fit but an MRI scanner detected there was a problem. Without these machines, sooner or later I was going to have a big heart-attack.
“But I’m here 23 years later and feeling great. It just shows why scanners are so important.
“Heart disease is the single biggest killer in this country – and it’s important people understand that it can happen to anyone. I’m the perfect example of that. It was nothing to do with my lifestyle – I just had the wrong genes.”
Encouraging people over a catchment area stretching across Teesside, North Yorkshire, County Durham and Cumbria to back the major fundraising raffle, he added: “We have a world class unit here and it’s of paramount importance it stays that way. To do that, we need support this campaign so we can invest.
“Only by having the best machines will we continue to attract the best doctors because they naturally want to work with the very best equipment.
“MRI scanners are life-savers. People will lose their lives without these machines. So ensuring we have them here has to be in everyone’s interest – it’s for you, your children and your children’s children.
Souness was launching a big Rotary Club push towards a much-needed £500,000 refurbishment of one of The James Cook University Hospital’s MRI scanners.
In recent years MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanning has become a key method for diagnosing heart problems, as it provides detailed images that enable targeted treatment with significantly improved results for patients – but the unit is struggling to meet demand.
South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has committed £2.3 million to purchase a new state-of-the-art scanner to replace one of the hospital’s ageing machines.
However, the unit’s second scanner needs a £500,000 upgrade to meet the demands of a catchment area covering 1.6 million people,
With the Foundation Trust unable to invest such a sum in the foreseeable future, South Cleveland Heart Fund launched their Cardiac MR Appeal, having already donated £300,000 towards the purchase of the new scanner.
The charity has now won the backing of Middlesbrough Erimus Rotary Club. Supported by almost 30 fellow rotary clubs across the hospital’s catchment area, the Middlesbrough branch is organising a region-wide raffle, with the aim of raising a big chunk of the required £500,000 target.
Former cardiologist Dr Adrian Davies, chairman of the South Cleveland Heart Fund, said: “This is an opportunity for people across the region to safeguard a vital service to the community.
“This appeal is vitally important for those people living in the hospital’s wide catchment area, many of whom, statistically speaking, will suffer heart problems in the future and will therefore benefit from access to state-of-the-art diagnostic facilities.
“The processing capacity of the second scanner is well below the 2,000 scans per year that is desirable for such a large catchment area.
“If heart scanning capacity is not increased to this level, the regional Cardiothoracic Centre at the hospital may lose its place in the top division of the UK’s heart units.
“That would mean many of the region’s heart patients will be unable to benefit from this advanced diagnosis and treatment, while it’s also likely that the unit would no longer be able to recruit and retain the best professionals.”
Mike Overy, of Middlesbrough Erimus Rotary Club, chairman of the Loving Hearts Raffle organising committee, added: “Since deciding to run the raffle we’ve received great support from all of the Rotary Clubs across the region. They are committed to selling tickets and several have also promised substantial donations.
“We have already received excellent support from a long list of local businesses that have sponsored or donated prizes and covered the administrative costs of the raffle.”
The top prize in the raffle is a Skoda Citigo sponsored by Middlesbrough firm Derek Slack Motors. Other prizes include a home cinema system, hotel and spa breaks, family days out and restaurant meals.
Administration costs for the raffle have been funded by Keys3 Darlington and MV Print. Tickets were sold at Boots the Chemist stores across the region throughout launch weekend (March 13-15).
Raffle tickets will also be on sale at a series of events and locations leading up to a Gala Charity Dinner at Middlesbrough’s Thistle Hotel on Saturday June 20 when the prize draw will take place.