“FUNDRAISING KEEPS ME CLOSER TO MY LOST BOY”
Like anyone, William Walker from Coleraine wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of open–heart surgery. At the age of four he had been diagnosed with a heart condition that narrowed the organ’s aortic valve and had been present since birth. To repair the fault,
surgeons had to wait until he was an adult. But with just weeks to go before his life–saving operation, he collapsed and died. He was just 25.
“He was our big, gentle giant,” says his mum, Priscilla. “If anybody needed something doing, he would just say: give me half an hour. This is a totally different house now that he’s gone.”
William, who had a carpet and upholstery cleaning business, was due to have his surgery in May 2011. He was with friends at that year’s Balmoral Show when the faulty heart valve apparently closed, cutting off his blood circulation.
“His friend’s father rang me,” says Priscilla. “I knew when I heard his voice that something was terribly wrong.
“To the people with him, it looked as if he’d just tripped and fallen. Paramedics were there within seconds, but they could only find a very weak pulse. One of the doctors rang while we were on the way to hospital to say a team of people were working with him. When we got there, they took us into a room. I can still hear my daughter screaming. I was screaming too. I remember asking them in disbelief: Are you telling me that my son has died?
“The thought of the surgery coming up had been a nightmare, because there was no guarantee of him coming through it.
But nothing had prepared us for this. Hindsight is a great thing. But I keep wondering what if? What if his surgery had been scheduled for a few weeks earlier?”
Priscilla, her husband Stephen and daughter Claire have raised nearly £17,000 for NI Chest Heart & Stroke since William’s death and they are supporting the Belfast Telegraph’s Baby Hearts Appeal. £10,000 of the total was raised at a memorial night organised by management and staff at Kelly’s in Portrush, where William worked part–time.
“I think the Baby Hearts Study, which is looking at congenital heart conditions, is excellent,” says Priscilla. “If it can help somebody else or stop anyone going through what we went through, it will be worth every penny.
“Fundraising has helped me to focus and keeps me closer to William. He and I were so close when we still had him. When I’m raising money, it’s as if he’s with me every step of the way. I’d urge anyone to give to the Baby Hearts Appeal.
“Until he died, we didn’t know how many lives he had touched. The house was full of people and they just kept on coming. There were between 800 and 900 guests for tea after the funeral. But then, although he had a heart condition, it didn’t restrict his everyday life.
As well as working, he volunteered at Coleraine Motor Club and was always helping people out.
“I suppose we just had the loan of William for a little while. But 25 years is very short.”
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