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Lynn Hawthorne looks into a- new development in the treatment of heart disease for the UK - being pioneered in the Black Country. Her husband - The Stirrer's poet laureate Brendan Hawthorne - is one of those who stands to benefit, and he needs your help.

So that’s January done and dusted, but how many of us have actually kept our New Year’s Resolutions?

The most common one, of course, is to lose weight. However, when the post-Christmas gloom sets in and it’s deemed “too cold to diet”, that ‘emergency present’ box of chocolates lurking at the back of the cupboard has tremendous allure.

My GP reckons I need to lose 2 stone and I agree, especially when I see old photographs of how slim I used to be, but, I’m afraid, like dear old Oscar Wilde “I can resist everything but temptation.”

There is no getting away from the fact that, as a nation, we are all getting bigger and the ‘obesity time bomb’ will stretch the NHS to the limit in future years. We all know that if we ate less, drank less, didn’t smoke and took regular exercise, we’d lose weight and be healthier, though most of us look for excuses for our lack of success.

But for one person in every 500 in the UK, controlling cholesterol levels – the levels of fat in the blood – is not that simple. That’s because they have an inherited blood fat disorder called Familial Hypcholesterolaemia, or FH, which means that, due to a faulty gene, they have naturally occurring high levels of fat in the blood which puts them at greater risk of developing heart disease or having strokes.

FH is one of the most frequently occurring inherited conditions, in similar numbers to diabetes, but lies largely undetected. It is present at birth, but is often not diagnosed until sufferers are in their 20’s or 30’s and have already made a range of lifestyle choices.

Stirrer Poet Laureate, Brendan Hawthorne, is one such sufferer, whose father and grandfather both died in their 60’s due to heart disease. He regularly attends clinics held at Sandwell Hospital by Dr. Elizabeth Hughes, who is a Consultant Chemical Pathologist and Honorary Associate Professor of Warwick University, so he is in good hands.

Dr. Hughes is also a trustee of Heart UK, a national charity devoted to raising awareness of FH and working with patients and their families to help them cope with the condition. She encouraged Brendan to become a member of the steering group for a radical innovation – a Family Support Centre to service the West Midlands but based in Sandwell.

The FSC is one of only two pilot schemes in England and is based at Sandwell Hospital due to the high proportion of people who have inherited blood fat conditions in the region.

Dr. Hughes is passionate about the project, believing that the Family Support Centre will ‘provide a platform’ for the detection, treatment and support of blood fat disorders and will work proactively to prevent onset in future cases.

On Thursday, 29th January, the Sandwell FSC was launched by the Mayor of Sandwell, Councillor Bob Price, and Brendan was there to perform a number of personal poems and songs, including one poem especially commissioned for the evening entitled Omega 3, referring to the vitamin found in oily fish which helps combat high cholesterol.

I’ve often worked to commission in the past, but I’ve never had to find a rhyme for Hypercholesterolaemia before!” he joked to the crowd of 150 patients, family members, doctors and consultants gathered to wish the venture well.

Heart UK Director, Michael Livingston, had travelled up from London for the event, describing the Family Support Centre as a “worthy cause” and praising the work of the small but dedicated staff that runs the Centre.

Nurse Advisor Suzanne Sumara, who heads up the Centre, outlined the services it will provide. There is a dedicated ‘phone line, staffed by medically-trained personnel, and an answering machine for out-of-hours.
The Centre offers a drop-in facility and 1-to-1 friendly, yet confidential support and advice.

There are family sessions, acknowledging the challenges faced by partners and children in making such changes to lifestyle, and social activities throughout the year. There is healthy living dietary advice and ‘Carry on Cholesterol’, a DVD on FH for teenagers, available for hire.

Fundraising is also vitally important, as the service is intended for expansion.

The FSC is a real opportunity to influence the provision of services in the future” stated Ms. Sumara, but, of course, needs financial help.

So, if you’ve slobbed out in 2008 and feel that it’s time you got up off the sofa and actually took some exercise instead of just watching the work-out DVD you got from Santa, now’s your chance! Heart UK is hosting a ‘Red Laces Ramble’ – red laces being the symbol of the charity – on 29th March, so there’s plenty of time to limber up andgather sponsorship.

The national UK average for cholesterol levels is 5.7. It should be below 5 and for those of you with other medical conditions, it should be below 4. Heart UK Director, Michael Livingston, says, “The future is in your hands,” so let’s put our hearts – and feet – into getting fit and helping others at the same time.

For more details on the charity, visit:

For more information on the West Midlands Family Support Centre, call: 0121 507 3275 or ring Suzanne Sumara direct on: 07814 547754

Did Brendan find a rhyme for Hypercholesterolaemia? See his poem here



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