THE parents of a tot who battled through severe heart problems are throwing their weight behind a campaign to keep open the unit which saved their boy’s life.
Sixteen-month-old Jake Barker was born with a host of health problems and had to have surgery at just five weeks old.
Now, his dad David Barker and mum Rachael Martin, of Hendon, are hoping to raise thousands of pounds for the Children’s Heart Unit Fund in aid of the Freeman Hospital, Newcastle, where Jake has been treated and had two operations.
An NHS review in July last year recommended surgery on children with heart conditions should continue at the Freeman, but campaigners hoping to keep a heart unit at Leeds General Infirmary have this week taken calls for a judicial review into the decision to the High Court in London.
David and Rachael have vowed to help out the North East unit as its future remains undecided.
Rachael, now 19, found out at her 20-week scan that Jake had heart problems.
When Jake was born, he was diagnosed with a ventricular septal defect, where the area between the two sections of the heart fails to develop, and a small right ventricle, among other conditions.
But two operations have put him on the road to recovery and now he only bears the scars of the surgery.
Rachael, who was induced a week early at the Royal Victoria Infirmary, said of the children’s heart unit: “It’s a great place.
“They even have space for parents’ accommodation, so we were able to stay with Jake when he was first born and when he had his second operation. It’s ridiculous that they are going to close some of these hospitals.”
David, 20, said: “There are people from Dundee and Aberdeen who use the unit at the Freeman. What would they do if it was to close?”
Despite the ordeal, the family hope Jake will lead a normal life, although he will require check-ups over the next couple of years.
“He may have problems with doing PE at school in a few years’ time, but that’s about it,” added David.
David and Rachael have organised a fund-raising night in aid of the unit.
It will take place on Friday, March 29, at the Stadium of Light and feature X Factor group The Risk, girl duet May Arcade and tribute band Reet Hot Chili Peppers.
Former Sunderland players Kevin Ball and Darren Williams are also set to attend.
For tickets, which cost £20 for adults and £10 for children, call 07534 633 478.