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Carrickfergus mum takes on charity run to mark 10th anniversary of heart attack

15 Dec 2021
Julie Mc Callister will be taking part in her fifth Red Dress Run this February along with her family

Julie McAllister, 49 from Carrickfergus, is marking an unusual anniversary this year, but an extremely important one – the ten-year anniversary since she survived a major heart attack, aged just 39.

This year, Julie will be marking the special occasion by taking part in Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke’s Red Dress Fun Run 2022, supported by MACE. This will be her fifth time taking on the five kilometre run or walk event which aims to raise funds and awareness for heart disease.

Julie says, “The day I had my heart attack was a normal Saturday. I went along to a Tae Bo class, and about fifteen minutes in while we were warming up, I suddenly felt sick. I had never felt a sickness like it.”

“I went out of the class and called my husband, Derek. I told him I was feeling unwell and asked could he come and collect me. I knew immediately what was happening, and when he arrived I told him I thought I was having a heart attack and that he needed to call 999.”

The mum of four, kissed goodbye to her family before being wheeled in for an emergency triple bypass surgery, convinced she might never see them again.

Coming out the other side, she learned the true importance of looking after your heart health. “I exercise regularly but have been advised not to take my heart rate too high. I walk three to five miles, five days a week, and I go to the gym for one hour three times per week. The cardiac rehab taught me how important it is to keep my heart muscle strong through exercise,” explains Julie.

“I ran my first Red Dress Run in 2017 on the fifth anniversary of surviving my major heart attack. Since then, I’ve been running every year for the charity and on February 27th, I will be donning my red dress for the fifth time and stepping out to raise awareness and much needed funds so NI Chest Heart & Stroke can continue to help rebuild healthy local hearts just like they’ve done for me.

“When I had my heart attack at such a young age, I realised how important their support would have been in my recovery. I know that this support will be important in the future and that the charity will be there for me, so I will do as much as I can to raise awareness for them.”

The event went Virtual last year due to COVID-19 restrictions, with hundreds of participants taking part in their local area across Northern Ireland and raising a staggering £50,000 to combat heart disease. This year, the event returns to its home venue of Stormont Estate, however the virtual element remains, with the charity encouraging participants who can’t make it to the main event to complete 5K their way during the month of February.

NICHS ambassador and firefighter Graham Ross from Whitehead will also be taking part for the fifth year running in memory of his father, Cameron. Graham always brings the fun to the event and loves, in his words, “dressing up like an eejit and doing silly things if it helps raise awareness and funds for our local heart charity.” In 2021 Graham ran his 5K dressed as DC Comic hero The Flash as part of the virtual event, but who will he be stepping out as in February 2022? Watch this space!

Graham explains, “I lost my dad in 2016 and with every step I take, I get a chance to remember him and raise money to help fight against heart disease. I hope he will be proud of me. I also run for my little daughter Eva. Being fit and healthy means everything to me and I hope I can inspire other local families, all generations, to join in the fun this February, and take positive steps to keep well both mentally and physically.”

Nadia Duncan, Events & Marketing Manager is urging family members of every generation, every age and ability to sign up saying. “Sadly, four people in Northern Ireland die every day from heart disease, and coronary heart disease is the biggest single cause of premature deaths of under 75s. Our vision is a Northern Ireland free from chest, heart and stroke illnesses. We provide funding for local research into prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and care. We also campaign for policies to improve the health of local people.”

“So please come run, walk, dance, skip or wheel 5K with us on Sunday 27th February 2022 at Stormont Estate, or if you can’t make the live event you can support us by doing 5k your way any day, or over days, in February. Dress red, wear your heart on your sleeve to remember a loved one and together we can help rebuild thousands of lives and make a lasting change towards heart health in Northern Ireland. Everyone is welcome to come along and join in the fun - even the family pooch!”

NI Chest Heart and Stroke’s charity partner MACE are supporting the event. Diane Anthony from MACE said, “We’re backing NICHS’s call for people to dress up in red and wear their heart on their sleeve at this year’s event. Whether you’re taking part in memory of someone you have lost to heart disease, celebrating someone who is living with a heart condition, or to prevent heart disease happening to someone in the future – sign up and join us to support this worthy cause!”

If you’ve been inspired by Julie’s story, then why not step up to the challenge? Whether you are running or walking in memory of a loved one or simply to get active, sign yourself, friends, and family up to the Red Dress Fun Run on Sunday, February 27, at 11am. Sign up at You can also follow the fun at #REDDRESSFUNRUN.

The charity is also inviting primary school pupils to have a laugh while they raise some cash for heart illness by hosting their own fun run anytime this February. Each school that takes part will receive a certificate of thanks to show how much they raised and there are some fantastic prizes up for grabs too. Find out more at