‘Heartbreaking’ week for Julie

Jake Flaherty.
Jake Flaherty.

This is a poignant week for Portadown woman Julie Flaherty. Not only would her son Jake have been four on Tuesday but Thursday was the second anniversary of his death.

It’s also Children’s Heartbeat Trust Awareness Week - the Northern Ireland charity which helped her family and continues to help the dozens of families whose children have heart conditions.

Julie is still closely involved with the charity, which has organised a number of initiatives this week to highlight its work and ongoing campaigns.

A number of civic buildings in Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon will be lit red throughout the week. including Craigavon Civic Centre and the Palace Demesne and gaol in Armagh.

Meanwhile, a province-wide billboard campaign, with the theme ‘Ever Been Heartbroken?’, features seven-year-old Lewis Greenaway who lives in Loughgall.

Lewis’s mum Julie set up the charity’s Portadown and Armagh support group, and both she and Julie were involved in the high-profile campaign to keep children’s heart surgery in Belfast.

The campaign was unsuccessful, with a decision made just a few months ago that all children’s surgery is to be performed in Dublin, although it will be 18 months before the service is up and running completely.

In the meantime, many parents and children continue to travel to Birmingham and London for surgery, and it is here that Jake’s Ladybird Bags - an initiative started by Julie - come into their own.

The bags are designed for parents who have to make an emergency trip, and are packed with toiletries and basic foodstuffs as well as a notebook and information on where they are going.

Twelve bags have already been handed out and Julie is hoping to prepare a further 110. She is currently accepting donations, which may be left at her home, 2 Kernan Avenue, or at Dynamic Nutrition, Meadow Lane.

She said, “The bags are red and black, like a ladybird, which Jake loved. He had a thing for bright colours.”