Ralph Magee from Comber didn’t expect that occasional pains in his chest while exercising could be indicative of a heart attack. But aged 56, he found that was exactly what had happened to him.
Now, Ralph 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 his third 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.
The father of three and Principal at Andrews Memorial Primary School first became aware of potential problems with his health back in 2020. Ralph says, “A colleague had organised for Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke to come to the school and do health checks. At the time, I knew I was a bit heavier than I should be. I was exercising but not eating as healthily as I could have been. I also wanted to find out about my cholesterol, because it had been high a few years before and I had been on statins, before getting off them by reducing my cholesterol through exercise.”
“I went along to the check and was told pretty much what I expected! The NICHS Health Promotion Officer confirmed my high cholesterol levels and advised me to take the next twelve weeks to look after my diet and exercise, then to go to my GP and get my cholesterol checked again. If it went down, it would show I was in control of it, and if not, then I would need statins again.”
Ralph continues, “It was the beginning of lockdown, and the weather was great. I started going out on my bike and running but going uphill I had to stop because of chest discomfort. At that time, I didn’t see it as pain. I didn’t think I was having a heart attack. I was able to stop, take a drink and cycle on, so I thought I was fine. With running I was really struggling though. Overall, I knew something wasn’t right. One day I was walking our dog up a little hill and felt the discomfort again and knew I needed to go to hospital.”
It was in hospital that Ralph received a shock when he found out he needed to have a stent fitted, and that he had suffered a heart attack. Ralph says, “It was only when the doctor came around on the second day that he used the phrase heart attack. At the time I thought having the stent was precautionary. I was lucky as the heart attack didn’t damage my heart muscle. I got off lightly, but it was the warning I needed to look after myself more carefully. My mum had a heart attack at 78 and died of heart failure, she didn’t get a chance to have a stent. Hopefully with my stent I’ve been given a second chance.”
Following his heart attack, Ralph got involved in supporting Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke through fundraising. He says, “I saw an advert for the charity’s Red Dress Fun Run. Due to the personal connection it meant something to me and I thought I should support the event. I had started to run again as part of my recovery after my heart attack and I was enjoying it, so I decided to do a 10km run with my friends and two sons in the local area and raise money via a JustGiving page.”
In February 2022 Ralph decided to get his pupils involved too. Ralph explains, “We registered the school for the Primary Schools’ Red Dress Fun Run. Some classes do the Daily Mile which is designed to get kids outside for 15 minutes a day, and we just made it more fun. We jogged, walked and danced dressed in red. We also held a school assembly where I explained to the children a bit about what had happened to me. All of it helped raise funds for the charity.”
But Ralph’s fundraising streak wasn’t over. “In 2022, I also decided to take part in the Belfast City Half Marathon supporting NICHS. I was running around 8 miles, so it was an achievable goal.”
Now, Ralph is passionate about raising awareness and supporting education around heart health, which is why he’s backing February’s Red Dress Fun Run 2023. He says, “At the time of my heart attack, I said ‘why me?’ I was told ‘you’re in your fifties living in Northern Ireland, it’s basically a target on your back’. It’s so common here and it’s not going away so education is something I feel strongly about- educating people and improving lifestyles is very important.”
What advice would he give to others? Ralph says, “If you’ve had something like a heart attack and you survive, you’ve got a second chance, so you need to do something about it. If you haven’t had one, it’s up to you to try to prevent it. I wasn’t being as healthy as I should have been, and I should have paid attention to the signs that it ran in my family, but I’ve got a second chance now. Listen to the doctors, exercise and take care of yourself because it will make a huge difference and you’ll feel so much better for it. Physically and mentally, running has reinvented me and helped me a huge amount. I was lucky I got over it and it’s now up to me to do something about it and to prevent another one.”
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 26th February 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 Ralph’s story you can sign up to the Red Dress Fun Run at www.nichs.org.uk/RedDressFunRun
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 www.nichs.org.uk/PSRedDressFunRun