Heart transplant patient from Hemel Hempstead completes remarkable 5,000-mile walk for charity
A heart transplant patient from Hemel can finally put his feet up for Christmas after walking an incredible 5,000 miles around the entire coast of Britain.
Kieran Sandwell, 49, has taken two years to complete his journey in stages, interspersed with recovery periods at home.
He launched the Trail of Two Hearts challenge to mark his recovery from a heart transplant 10 years ago, after being diagnosed with congenital heart disease at birth.
And his efforts have resulted in a whopping £13,000 raised for the British Heart Foundation charity. But he is aiming for a total of £20,000.
Kieran set off on February 1, 2017 from the BHF offices in London.
He started his journey by walking up the UK’s east coast, working his way around the length of Scotland and down the west coast, before storming along the southern coastline.
Last week he celebrated a triumphant finish on London's Tower Bridge in London.
He said: “The inspiration for my challenge came to me around 25 years ago, but back then it was only something I could dream of because of my health. It has been one heck of a journey to get here and crossing the finish line was a monumental moment – I can’t believe I’ve finished!"
He said the two-year challenge resulted in some “incredible adventures” - including falling in love with a girl he met in a pub on the way. The girl, Sylvie, is now his fiancée.
Kieran’s battle with heart disease began when he was just three years old, when he had to have open heart surgery to repair a condition called Transposition of the Great Arteries (TGA). While the operation is life saving, it often leads to patients developing heart failure decades later.
By the time Kieran reached 35, he was in severe heart failure and was put on the waiting list for a heart transplant. In July 2009 Kieran received his new heart and donated his old heart to medical research.
Three years ago he “met” the old heart at the Royal Brompton Hospital to discover how it could help experts learn more about congenital heart disease.
Kieran said: “I am incredibly grateful for the medical care that meant I could live so long with congenital heart disease and that my second heart has enabled me to do so much. I’d love for the public to continue supporting me by helping me reach my target of raising £20,000 for the BHF’s ground-breaking research that will help more people with conditions like mine.”
Along his journey, Kieran has been supported by BHF-funded researchers, fundraising groups and shop staff and volunteers, as well as hundreds of people from the towns and villages he has passed through.
Simon Gillespie,BHF's chief executive, joined Kieran for a stretch of the trek and was there to congratulate him when he made it to John O’Groats and then again at Land’s End.
He said: “We never cease to be amazed by the incredible way our fundraisers raise money for our research. But Kieran’s coastline challenge is without a doubt one of the biggest we’ve ever seen. We are so grateful for his determination and dedication to supporting our work. The British public have helped to power his steps through their ongoing support and generous donations - and there’s still time for to make a final contribution. With every penny raised we’re able to fund even more vital research to improve the lives of people living with heart and circulatory diseases across the UK."
Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director at the BHF and consultant in adult congenital heart disease at Royal Brompton Hospital, said: “Kieran is an inspiration to me. I first met Kieran whilst I was a junior doctor and his courage in the face of deteriorating heart failure touched my heart again and again. As the years passed, his heart failure became debilitating to the extent that the most basic tasks were a struggle and he was referred for a heart transplant.
“His achievements today are testament to his personal determination and the research progress that means children with congenital heart disease can expect to live into adulthood and that a heart transplant, for those lucky enough to receive one, can be a life-changing operation. The money he’s raised will now help fund more research into improving the lives of people with congenital heart diseases such as his.”