A member of staff at the University of Chester is swimming the length of the English Channel in one week to raise money for the charity that detected her undiagnosed congenital heart defect.
Rachel Collins, who is from Hope in Flintshire, is an administrator in the university’s department of sport and exercise science.
Back in 2015, she had the opportunity to take part in a cardiac screening programme at the university, which was organised by the national charity Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY).
CRY works to prevent young sudden cardiac deaths through awareness, screening and research, and supporting affected families.
In around 80% of cases of young sudden cardiac death there will have been no signs, symptoms or warnings – which underlines the vital role of screening.
Each screen involves an ECG (electrocardiogram) test, which is a simple way to identify most of these cardiac abnormalities.
If further clarification is necessary, an echocardiogram (ultrasound scan of the heart) can also be taken.
CRY’s screening programme is subsidised, so that each appointment only costs £50.
However, there was no cost to the University of Chester, as the screenings were kindly funded by Jools and Jonathan Pilkington, whose daughter Sara, a student at Durham University, tragically died from a rare cardiac problem at the age of 21.
They have funded hundreds of young people across the country to receive screenings.
CRY’s screening programmes are available to anyone between the ages of 14 to 35.
At the time, more than 100 students and staff under the age of 25 were given the opportunity at the University of Chester; the majority being from sports clubs, who were the target group, as it is likely that any cardiac problem would be exacerbated by people who exercise at a high level.
From the screening process, a number of health issues were identified, allowing those affected, who may not otherwise have been aware of their condition, to seek further treatment.
Rachel was one of those affected. She said: “The CRY heart screening at the university found that I had a congenital heart defect – a hole in my heart nearly three centimetres wide!
“On July 26, it will be one year since the operation to repair it. I wanted to do something on the anniversary to repay the charity that helped me.
“So, to raise money for them, I am attempting to swim the channel distance – 21 miles, which is 1,352 lengths!
“I will be swimming in pools over one week – concluding on July 26.
“Some of this will be in the university’s pool and the rest will be in public pools.
“Not only am I looking to raise money for CRY, but I am also keen to raise awareness about undiagnosed heart conditions, and to get the message out there about this fantastic charity.
“I would urge anyone who has the opportunity to get anything health-wise checked out, to do so, even if they have no symptoms and feel well.
“I had no symptoms of my condition, so without this screening, I would never have known about my condition and, long-term, it would have caused damaged to my heart and likely shortened my life expectancy by around 10 years.”
Gordon Reay, director of sport and active lifestyle at the University of Chester, added: “We were really struck by the Pilkingtons’ situation and it brought home to us how important these tests were and immediately took up the offer being presented to us.
“The screening was offered to all sports students and staff aged under 25 and, if it wasn’t for the screening, Rachel’s heart issue would never have been found. The screening was literally a life saver.
“We cannot thank the Pilkingtons enough for their generosity and belief in this screening process.
“The Sport and Active Lifestyle Department continues to support CRY and it is our main charity that we raise money for.
“We fully support Rachel with this challenge and wish her the best of luck.”
Jools Pilkington said: “It is wonderful that Rachel is prepared to do this for CRY and we wish her every success.
“Rachel is one of the lucky ones in that her problem was found in time and we are so delighted that she has recovered to be able to take on this challenge.”
More information about CRY can be found at: www.c-r-y.org.uk
To sponsor Rachel visit www.justgiving.com/fundraising/rachel-collins24 .