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Essex family makes poignant move to safely support leading heart charity and overcome difficulties posed by social distancing measures ​

22 Jun Essex family makes poignant move to safely support leading heart charity and overcome difficulties posed by social distancing measures ​

Under normal circumstances, next Sunday (28thJune 2020) would have seen leading heart charity Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) and its supporters taking part in the charity’s flagship event, an annual ‘memory walk’ in London. This event is the pinnacle of CRY’s awareness-raising calendar and gives bereaved families the chance to come together in memory of young people who have died suddenly from a previously undiagnosed heart condition.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, CRY’s Heart of London Bridges Walk event has sadly had to be cancelled for the first time since its launch in 2007. Since its inception, the Bridges Walk has helped to generate over £950,000 – and this year was set to attract even more support as the charity marks its 25thanniversary.

Year on year, 100s of walkers have gathered in London to take part in the ‘circular route’ through the cobbled streets of London in memory of individual loved ones and a shared acknowledgement of the 12 apparently “fit and healthy” young people (aged 35 & under) who die every week in the UK from young, sudden, cardiac death (YSCD).

As well as providing an opportunity for families to meet up and ‘walk and talk’, there is traditionally a dedicated, quiet space with a Memory Wall for people to ‘pin’ personal thoughts of those they have lost.

This year, social distancing dictates that none of this can happen, but CRY and its supporters are taking steps to ensure that bereaved families don’t feel separated and still have the opportunity to stay connected, united by their memories and inspired in their fundraising efforts to help prevent these devastating young deaths.

One group determined not to let social distancing stop supporters from feeling socially connected is the family of Jack Atkinson from Clacton-on-Sea, Essex. Jack tragically passed away from a previously undiagnosed heart condition in 2016 aged just 18.

In lieu of the London walk Richard Baker, Jack’s uncle, has organised a local socially-distanced ‘virtual Bridges Walk’ which will take place on the day of the original event. A large group including Jack’s family and friends will be walking a 6.6-mile route from Clacton Pier through Holland Haven to the Country Park and back. The group will be donating what they can and will be kitted out in matching t-shirts with balloons and banners in the hopes of raising as much awareness for the charity as possible.

Jack’s family and friends have been tireless in their efforts to support CRY over the years. Richard has previously undertaken the CRY Great Cake Bake in 2017, while Jack’s father Matthew Atkinson ran the London Marathon in 2018, raising over £1,200 for the charity. Multiple family members and friends have organised Facebook fundraisers, participated in the 2017 Bridges Walk, and last April a group of 8 took on a Mount Snowdon climb in Jack’s memory. Jack’s father, his aunt Amy Ling and his cousin Louise Whitfield were due to be running the 2020 London Landmarks Half Marathon for CRY, but this has also been cancelled due to the pandemic, giving the virtual Bridges Walk even more awareness-raising significance for the family.

Richard comments;”We feel very fortunate to still be able to raise awareness for CRY in Jack’s memory despite the devastating impact of coronavirus on the charity’s vital fundraising events. By taking part in a walk closer to home, we are still hoping to unite people in their memories, not just of Jack but of all the young people who have died tragically from previously undiagnosed heart conditions.”

On the morning of the walk, the homepage of the CRY website will be transformed into a digital message ‘memory wall’ and will be displayed for 24 hours.

Supporters are encouraged to upload and share photos and messages about those they would be walking in memory of. They will also be asked to share the link to the homepage on their social media, all day on Sunday 28 June, helping to highlight the impact and true level of incidence of young sudden cardiac death in the UK.

The ‘event’ will officially start with a welcome speech from CRY’s Chief Executive, followed by a 2-minute silence, streamed across all social media platforms.

Chief Executive of the charity, Dr. Steven Cox says;”CRY’s Heart of London Bridges Walk is our most important event in the year in terms of bringing families and friends together from all over the UK to remember the person who meant so much to them and who died so suddenly. But, like so many charities across the UK, we are facing the prospect of having to cancel many of our fundraising and awareness events – including this, our flagship event – due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This will of course have a significant impact on our fundraising potential and our ability to facilitate families coming together – but thanks to technology and the creativity of our team, we are delighted to be able to bring the event closer to the homes of our supporters. ‘CRY families’ – such as the family and friends of Jack Atkinson – are amazingly committed to the cause and we know they will embrace this slightly different day of ‘connecting and remembering’. Hopefully, we will all be back, walking together next year – with perhaps even more supporters from further afield who will decide to continue joining us remotely.”

In 80% of cases of young sudden cardiac death (YSCD) there will have been no signs or symptoms, which is why CRY believes proactive cardiac screening is so vitally important.

CRY has now tested over 220,000 young people since the screening programme was launched in 1995. One in every 300 young people tested by CRY will be identified with a potentially life-threatening condition.

Thanks to an inspiring level of continued support since 1995 from the public, bereaved families and many businesses and community organisations across the UK, CRY has been able to develop a unique range of services from pioneering research and fast-track pathology to a specialist Network of Bereavement Support, as well as its unique screening programme.

Dr Cox adds; “As ever, we are immensely grateful to everyone pledging to take part this year and who are showing such dedication and determination to continue supporting CRY during these challenging and unprecedented times.”