Heartbeat House is celebrating receiving ‘the key to the door’ after 21 years providing a home from home for the families of heart patients being treated at Southampton General Hospital.
Heartbeat House in Tremona Road, Southampton, was opened in 1995 by the charity Wessex Heartbeat to enable families from across Wessex to stay close to their often gravely ill loved ones.
The charity raised £3 million to build the house and now fundraises tirelessly to meet its £120,000 annual running costs, while also funding vital equipment and research at the hospital.
Wessex Heartbeat chief executive John Munro, said: “Before Heartbeat House, mothers of newborn babies with heart problems were having to sleep on camp beds or mattresses on the floor at the hospital.
“Although the Wessex Cardiac Unit is one of the foremost in the country offering outstanding care, the space limitations prevent any proper accommodation being provided.”
In 1994 an appeal group, led mainly by local Rotarians, purchased a property opposite the hospital for £110,000, demolished it and started building work.
Wessex Heartbeat’s supporters then helped beg and borrow what was needed to kit out the 13 bedrooms, large kitchen area and other spaces of the house.
John Munro said: “What they created was a million miles away from the ‘feel’ of a hospital, hostel or any other institution, which is just what these relatives need after a gruelling day at the hospital with their loved one.”
Heartbeat House was formally opened by the comedian Rory Bremner and further appeals have enabled Wessex Heartbeat to add 12 more bedrooms.
John said: “People staying at Heartbeat House hail from across Wessex and as far and wide as the Isle of Wight, Guernsey and Jersey.
“We host the parents and siblings of poorly children, relatives of people who have had sudden heart attacks and also people whose loved ones are undergoing complex, cardiac surgery.
“Many of these people are facing some of the most frightening times of their lives, but Heartbeat House enables them to stay in comfort close by for as long as they need, be it days, weeks or even months.”
Sarah Jane stayed in Heartbeat House for nearly a month while her 25-year old daughter underwent four operations, including emergency lifesaving surgery.
Sarah, who is from Deal in Kent, said: “Heartbeat House was an absolute Godsend.
“My daughter is one of five siblings and it meant that they were all able to visit, especially in the first week when it was so touch and go.
“The staff were brilliant and sensitive to people’s feelings.”
Sarah said that she was able to be by her daughter’s side in a matter of minutes just before she went into emergency heart surgery at 11.30pm on a Saturday night. Medical staff later told Sarah that her daughter nearly died.
Without Heartbeat House Sarah wouldn’t have been able to afford to stay in Southampton for more than a few nights at a time in a bed and breakfast.
It meant she was also able to keep family members informed on a regular basis of her daughter’s condition and progress over the month.
Sarah said: “Heartbeat House is the most incredible facility with a kitchen, lounge, washing machine and a peaceful garden, helping to normalise life and provide a base at a terribly difficult time.
“I can’t thank the house, staff and Wessex Heartbeat highly enough as well as all of the amazing staff in the theatre team, intensive care ward, the physiotherapists, nurses and young person’s cardiac ward at Southampton General Hospital.”
Sarah’s daughter Cicely was admitted for surgery as a consequence of a complex genetic cardiac condition.
She chose Southampton as a centre of cardiac excellence in a last ditch attempt to improve her cardiac condition having been told by other surgeons that she needed a heart transplant.
She has a demanding professional occupation and wanted to take the opportunity for life changing surgery, in a situation where she was deteriorating.
Her struggle with extreme tiredness, walking up stairs and the fear of another cardiac arrest was impacting on daily life.
Cicely is now recovering well in Kent. Sarah said that her family intend to carry out fundraising for Wessex Heartbeat.
It costs Wessex Heartbeat £120,000 per year to run Heartbeat House, but the charity does not charge people to stay there and only asks they make a donation if they can.
John said: “We receive no funding of any type and rely wholly on the help of our very generous supporters including many individual fundraisers and also local businesses such as Carnival UK, Garmin, Snows and Hendy Ford.
“People also sponsor Heartbeat House rooms, which is immensely helpful.”
Heartbeat House’s birthday has so far been celebrated with a garden party for previous guests and a party for Wessex Heartbeat supporters.
To become a fundraiser for Wessex Heartbeat or to find out more about sponsoring a room at Heartbeat House please visit: www.heartbeat.co.uk or call:023 8070 6095.