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Catherine remembers brother Michael with every step she takes

21 Feb 2023
Catherine and Michael 2

Catherine McKinney from Newtownabbey sadly lost her brother Michael to a cardiac arrest just before Christmas last year. Michael was just 40 years old.

Now, Catherine wants to raise funds and awareness for heart conditions which is why she is participating in local charity Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke’s (NICHS) Red Dress Fun Run 2023, supported by MACE and Musgrave MarketPlace. This will be her first time taking on the five-kilometre run or walk event which aims to raise funds for the charity’s care and prevention services and research as well as awareness of heart disease as it takes place in February which is Heart Month.

Catherine explains; “Michael’s cardiac arrest came out of the blue. I had been talking to Michael earlier that day and he was just his usual self. Everything was fine. Until it wasn’t.”

“Michael was in Intensive Care in the Royal Victoria Hospital for a few days after the cardiac arrest. Unfortunately, however, Michael’s brain had been starved of oxygen for around 15 minutes before the ambulance arrived and he passed away in the early hours of 13th December 2022.”

Remembering Michael Catherine says; “Michael was so full of life. He was a big guy- six-foot, broad shoulders- and he had a big personality to match. He was so fun loving and had a big heart and smile. He had a great sense of humour.”

“I loved spending time with him, he was just great. We were close and met most weekends for coffee or lunch or to go shopping. We had brilliant craic together. Michael was a mate as well as a brother and I miss him so much now.”

Catherine is sharing her story as she wants to raise awareness about heart conditions and how these can affect anyone. Catherine says; “People sometimes have the misconception that heart conditions are more likely to affect older people, but this isn’t always the case. Michael was only 40. I hope talking about what happened to Michael will help spread awareness.”

Catherine and Michael

Catherine continues; “It’s important to me to try and educate people. I didn’t know the difference between a cardiac arrest and a heart attack until this happened. I thought they were terms for the same thing, but a cardiac arrest is when the heart goes into spasm and actually stops beating. A heart attack, on the other hand, happens when the blood supply to the heart is suddenly blocked, usually by a blood clot, and this can damage the heart muscle.”

As well as raising awareness, Catherine and her family wanted to do something practical to help others after Michael’s passing and, in tribute to him, set up a Just Giving page to raise funds for Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke (NICHS). Catherine explains; “As a family we chose NICHS as it is a local charity helping local people. They do so much work raising awareness and delivering practical support to people who have been affected by heart conditions. The page raised over £2000 and we are so grateful to everyone who donated. It’s a mark of how loved Michael was by not only us, but his wide circle of friends. It’s comforting to know the money will go towards helping others. Michael also became an organ donor which is another comfort.”

Catherine’s fundraising streak isn’t over however, and she is now preparing to participate in Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke’s Red Dress Fun Run this weekend. Catherine says; “After the Just Giving page raised so much money, I went on to NICHS’s website to see if there were other ways I could support the charity in tribute to Michael. I ran a marathon previously in memory of a friend who passed away from cancer and I wanted to see if NICHS had any fundraising events coming up which I could take part in. I came across the Red Dress Fun Run and it looked like a great event to get involved in. I wanted to do something fairly soon after Michael’s passing to keep the fundraising momentum going and with the Red Dress Fun Run being in February, it was perfect timing. I am really looking forward to it and will be thinking of Michael with every step I take.”

2022’s Red Dress Run saw over 500 participants turn Stormont into a sea of red as they walked, ran, skipped and wheeled 5k across the estate, raising a staggering £50,000. This year, the event takes place once again at Stormont Estate, however the virtual element introduced due to previous COVID-19 restrictions remains, allowing people who can’t make it to the main event to complete 5K during the month of February.

Tara Currie, NICHS Events & Marketing Manager is urging family members of every generation, 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.”

“So please come join us on Sunday 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 join in the fun - even the family pooch!”

The charity will once again partner with MACE for 2023 and are delighted to welcome sister company Musgrave MarketPlace which will also support the event. Diane Anthony from Musgrave says, “Mace and Musgrave MarketPlace are both backing NICHS’s call for people to dress in red and wear their heart on their sleeve at this year’s event, which is set to be fantastic. 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 have been inspired to step up to the challenge by Catherine’s story you can sign up to the Red Dress Fun Run at

Primary school pupils are also invited to join in 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 is an opportunity to win some fantastic prizes. You can find out more about getting your primary school involved at