Our ambassadors

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Adrian Purtell
Sally Bee with her children
Willie Poching
Paul Silky Jones
Clare Elsley
James Gosling
Matt Hickling

We're proud of our ambassadors who promote our charity and the work we do, as well as helping out at events and acting as our spokespeople.

Adrian Purtell

London Broncos rugby player Adrian Purtell became an ambassador for Heart Research UK in 2013, nearly a year after suffering a heart attack following a Magic Weekend game against Leeds Rhinos.

Adrian was just 28 when he collapsed after the match and needed emergency treatment at Leeds General Infirmary. “It was scary when they first told me – and I was there by myself.  At that point I didn’t know anything about the situation and thought “am I going to die?"” he said.   

The next big question was whether he would ever again be able to play the sport he loved, but Adrian didn’t give in.  “I had accepted that I might not play again. The first doctors I saw weren’t able to give me the answers I needed. If I had gone home and asked ‘could I have played?’  I would have been more depressed about not pushing myself to get back, so I had to keep trying.”

Adrian went through a series of MRI scans over the following months and was told that despite some slight scarring, the heart was functioning normally.  He successfully came through a test which put his heart under stress conditions and was given the all clear in November 2012.

After going through a period of uncertainty about his condition and whether he would ever play rugby again he was able to start training again.  The news spurred the Aussie on to get himself back to full and peak fitness, and by March 2013 he was back in a Bulls shirt playing the sport he loved.  He's been one of the Bulls star players this season and a popular member with both his teammates and fans alike.

He has strong messages for those who have been through a similar experience.  “Just stay positive, from the start.  I was upset about the prospect of not playing again, but I did come to the view that if that happened it wouldn’t be the end of the world as I was still alive.   I was also just trying to be proactive and get back to some form of exercise as soon as possible.”

His experiences and a feeling that he was given a new lease of life, prompted Adrian to become an ambassador for Heart Research UK, and he's determined to spread the word about looking after your heart through healthy living, exercise and sensible diet.

“I can testify to the excellent treatment I received, and it would be good to ensure that a charity like Heart Research UK has the necessary support so it can continue to fund research that helps to save peoples’ lives. What happened to me really shook me up, so I’d like to think that others in a similar situation will get the excellent care and same positive outcome as I did.”

Sally Bee

TV cook and mother of three Sally Bee joined up with Heart Research UK in June 2014 to promote healthy lifestyles – 12 years after suffering three massive heart attacks that nearly ended her life.

Sally, now 48, who lives in Stratford-upon-Avon, almost died after suffering from spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD), a rare emergency condition that occurs when a tear forms in one of the heart’s blood vessels.  It can slow or block blood flow to the heart, causing a heart attack, abnormalities in heart rhythm and sometimes sudden death.

She said: “I want to lend my voice to Heart Research UK because without research I wouldn’t be here,” she said.  “We fit together perfectly.  Summer 2014 was the 10th anniversary of my heart attacks so if I can survive more than 10 years I can survive forever.”

After her heart attacks doctors gave the then 36-year-old little or no chance of survival, and called in her family - husband Dogan, and children Tariq, Kazim and Lela who were four, two and nine months at the time – to prepare them for the worst. But Sally says it was their presence that willed her to survive.  “Since I had just discovered that I was still alive, and I’d allowed myself to think for a second about my little ones at home, I was filled with an all-consuming need, desire and passion not to let myself die.

“I believe it was this surge of emotion that helped saved my life. It must have been all about the people that I love. It was instinctive and I decided there and then that I would never, ever give up breathing.” After treatment, and months of recovery, she began to get her life back together with determination, a positive attitude, and a healthy living regime that she now shares through her recipe books and TV appearances. It is through these experiences that she has decided to become an ambassador for Heart Research UK to get positive messages across about healthy living and help others going through the same worrying process. 

One of Sally's first experiences with Heart Research UK was visiting Birmingham Children’s Hospital where a monitoring trial has been partly funded with a £36,000 grant from HRUK. Parents will be able to document daily weight changes and oxygen levels using scales and a handheld oxygen saturation monitor. It is hoped that these simple measurements could be an ‘early warning system’ and help to anticipate problems that could develop, allowing quicker intervention where needed. Families will continue to receive all their usual cardiac care from Birmingham Children’s Hospital and around the clock access to specialist staff for advice and reassurance.

She's also supporting our Helping Little Hearts campaign to bring about a nationwide exercise "toolkit" for young heart patients leaving hospital after treatment.

Check out Sally Bee's own website to hear more about her story and share her healthy eating advice: http://www.sally-bee.com/

Willie Poching

Former Leeds Rhinos and Wakefield Wildcats Rugby League star, Willie Poching became an ambassador for Heart Research UK after suffering a heart attack in January 2012.

The 43-year-old New Zealander, who is currently Assistant Head Coach at Hull Kingston Rovers, wants to raise awareness of heart disease after his own health scare which was caused by a blocked artery.  He decided to support Heart Research UK, promoting the importance of the charity’s work particularly in getting people to live healthier lifestyles. 

Six months on from his heart attack Willie was given the all clear to go back to coaching his previous club, Warrington Wolves’ first team, but his memories of his health scare are vivid and he is still baffled as to why a fit and healthy athlete should have heart problems. “They said that what happened to me was down to bad luck really,” said the former Super League player. “One of the things that scared me was looking round the heart ward and seeing people in their 70s and 80s and asking myself ‘why did this happen to me?’  It told me that nobody is exempt and it can happen to anyone.”

Willie remembers how he first became aware of a problem when a tightness and pains started running across his chest and neck.  Ambulance paramedics confirmed he was having a heart attack so took him straight to Leeds General Infirmary where an angioplasty was performed to unblock an artery where a clot had formed from a build-up of plaque.  He recalls how after the operation the tightness and shortage of breath disappeared in an instant.

Willie is happy to support Heart Research UK in its bid to educate people to live more active and healthier lifestyles and to help raise funds for research into the prevention, treatment and cure of heart disease.  His health scare has made him appreciate his life – he’s married to Maraea and they have three boys, William, Bailey and Kobe.  “I am more appreciative of the time I spend with those people who are important to me,” said Willie.  “It has made me slow down a bit as I was always trying to be ‘full on’ and on the go.  I’ve now learned to prioritise and put everything into perspective.”

As a Rugby League coach Willie doesn’t have to have the same levels of fitness as the players, but he is pushing himself back to full fitness with the help of the doctors and nurses who are helping him rehabilitate after his heart scare.   He was off work for just over a month and says his bosses at Warrington - where he previously coached - and Hull have been “fantastic”. “I’ve had an association with Heart Research UK so I want to raise awareness of how people can live healthier lifestyles and get the message across about looking after your heart.”

Paul "Silky" Jones

Former world light heavyweight boxing champion Paul "Silky" Jones has come on board as an ambassador for Heart Research UK and is urging middle aged men to reduce their risk of heart disease and get fit.

Coronary heart disease risks increase in men over the age of 45 as they are more prone to trigger factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a high waist measurement as well as an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise and smoking.  Recent Institute of Education studies show that nearly two thirds of British men over the age of 42 are either overweight or obese.  Paul wants men in that age group to get fit and change their lifestyle habits to give themselves a better chance of avoiding heart disease. 

He's already supported Heart Research UK by doing public skipping demonstrations in Leeds city centre, and now he wants to spread the message further through his own inspirational speaking and skipping events.  Paul, the first British-born Light Middleweight World Champion when he won the belt in 1995, says that exercises like skipping can help middle-aged men improve their fitness and is an easy and effective way to be more active.

He reckons that just 10-15 minutes of skipping a day will help increase the heart rate and is a good warm up for more varied types of exercise.
He said:  “Everyone can take part in physical activity as it doesn’t have to be costly or too demanding, and skipping is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways of getting fit.”

Although heart disease affects everyone, the former boxing star is targeting middle-aged men because he feels they often don’t listen to messages about looking after their health and changing poor lifestyle habits.

"I am thrilled to support Heart Research UK,” said Paul.  “As a world champion boxer I have always been health conscious and now I’m in my late forties, I am even more aware of my physical health. I work with lots of people promoting activity and I’ve noticed that people tend to think they're too old to start exercise but really there is no greater time to start exercise.  I want to demonstrate that fitness isn't about the huge changes, it’s about the small ones we make.”   Paul also has a family history of heart disease so he is even more determined to pass on tips for people to get themselves fit and healthy.

We're delighted that Paul "Silky" Jones has agreed to promote these messages and to try and reach a group of people who in the past have proved difficult to engage with on health issues.

Tommy Frank

Young Yorkshire boxing champion Tommy Frank, who suffered from a hole in the heart until he was five, became an ambassador for Heart Research UK because he wanted to give something back after his early life heart scare.

Tommy, 23, who boxes from the Sheffield Boxing Centre in Hillsborough, has been inspiring youngsters with congenital heart disorders that they too can go on to have success in sport.  Tommy, of Intake, Sheffield, turned professional in May 2016 after winning the Yorkshire amateur boxing title at flyweight.  He went on to beat Slovakian boxer Leonard Rafael in the Magna Centre near Rotherham to make it a winning first professional bout in front of family and friends.

It’s not been an easy journey for the young Sheffield boxer who had an operation to correct a hole in the heart when he was just five years old.  Instead of “wrapping him in cotton wool” his parents, Christine and Kevin, encouraged him to take part in sport, and he’s been going to the Sheffield Boxing Centre since he was 12.   His trainer and manager, Glyn Rhodes MBE, who has been with Tommy since the start, was ringside to see his protege have his first pro bout.

Tommy’s amateur career has seen him win the Yorkshire belt a number of times, with a record that saw 23 wins and 22 defeats as he learned his sport.  Says Tommy of his ambassador role:  “I am not a superstar yet, but I’m hoping that a child with heart problems can look up to me and realise there are really no limitations on how to succeed in sport.  If I can inspire one kid to better themselves then I feel I will have achieved something."  As a youngster with a heart condition he says you would not have expected him to become a professional boxer.  “I would like to think that I am proof that you can do anything you really want to if you work hard at it,” he said.  He is aiming high, and like all boxers dreams that one day he will be a world champion.  Says Tommy: “I have got this far, so why not shoot for the stars?”

Tommy, 21, from Intake, Sheffield, had an operation when he was five to correct a hole in the heart which was leaving him breathless and his lips blue.  Since then he hasn’t looked back. He got the boxing bug aged 12 years old when he decided to attend the Sheffield Boxing Centre in Hillsborough and has since had 32 fights and won the Yorkshire bantamweight title four times. He said: “I’ve had a great summer this year, with lots of training and exciting events. I’m really looking forward to taking part in the Great North Run and raising money for Heart Research UK.  I hope I can motivate other young people to take part in events like this, as well as keep healthy by exercising.”

Tommy became an ambassador for Heart Research UK, promoting its Helping Little Hearts campaign which is funding a rehabilitation toolkit for children leaving hospital after open heart surgery.  “I just wanted to give something back after the treatment I received, and try and help Heart Research UK as much as I can,” said Tommy.  “It is not easy to know what you can do as a child after heart surgery, so a prescription and toolkit that helps parents to understand this will make a big difference.”

Clare Elsley

England netball player Clare Elsley has fought back from a serious heart condition to reach the top of her game.

Now she’s become an ambassador for Heart Research UK to reassure others that having a heart problem doesn’t have to hold you back in sport.  Clare, 37, is a world gold medal winning captain of the England indoor netball team and was playing Super League netball when she started to feel unwell and thought it was diabetes.  When she collapsed and was taken to hospital she was diagnosed with a heart rhythm problem – but it took a year and a half to confirm.

She was fitted with a dual chamber pacemaker which meant going from being bed-ridden to playing netball again, the game she loves, and the bonus of representing England.  “I suffered three years of hell, like my world was coming to an end and I didn’t think I would be playing sport ever again.  I could never have dreamed of playing Super League netball again so the journey has been so much more rewarding now that I’m back playing,” she said.

Clare is a PE teacher at Badminton School at Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol  and lives in Staverton near Bath.  She helped Heart Research UK with the launch of its Helping Little Hearts campaign to get an exercise toolkit for all children who’ve undergone heart treatment so that they know how much exercise they are allowed to do.

Her decision to join Heart Research UK as an ambassador was to help inspire others to remain positive despite their heart condition.  She said: “I couldn’t think of a better way to show my support to others in similar situations.  My life was transformed by having this procedure. Other elite athletes have begun asking about my story to help them in their fight against a recent diagnosis, and parents at school have been talking freely and asking me about living with a heart condition.  More importantly, I have really begun to understand how lucky I have been and just what lengths my cardiologist Dr Graham Stuart has gone to in allowing me the opportunity to play at international level once again.  I hope to continue to share my journey with all those who are interested, in the hope that it might inspire others not to give up at a time when they feel all is lost. Where there is hope, there is life, and no matter how long the journey, sometimes, it really is a journey worth pursuing no matter how hard it is along the way.”

Clare has been captaining the England Indoor Netball team and they recently won a Gold medal in the 2016 World Championships in New Zealand - another major achievement that wouldn't have been possible without her heart treatment and her own determination to succeed.

Matt Hickling

Wheelchair athlete Matt Hickling has become our latest Heart Research UK ambassador, helping to inspire disabled people to look after their hearts.

Matt, was born with cerebral palsy which affects the movement of his arms and legs.  He is confined to a wheelchair, but it hasn’t stopped him having a positive outlook on life that inspires others.  In 2011 he competed in the Junior World Championships and won a bronze medal in the 100 metres.

He’s been wheelchair racing since he was 13 and at one stage was number one in the UK in the T34 classification and was all set to compete for a place in the 2012 Paralympics.  But an injury in May 2012 put paid to any selection hopes.  He regained his fitness and was just returning to competing when disaster struck again in 2013 when he shattered his left knee and damaged the right knee in an accident when playing wheelchair rugby.  After a series of operations, and a sheer determination to bounce back, he has now returned to full training and aiming to get back to the levels he attained previously – with the Tokyo Paralympics in his sights.

He’s a member of the Leeds City Athletics Club based in South Leeds and has been with his coach, Paul Moseley, since he was 13.  Matt is very pragmatic about his situation.  “I know there are a lot of people out there with worse disabilities than me,” he said.  “If you don’t have something to aim for you have nothing.  I know my disability won’t get better but hopefully I have as a person.”

He’s delighted to have become an ambassador for Heart Research UK where he has also been helping the charity with IT and administration.  “I’m very honoured to become an ambassador as people with disabilities do have to look after their hearts,” he said.

“If I can show other people with a disability or health problem that you can still do things that you want to do then that will be great.”

James Gosling

Rotherham man James Gosling, who, despite being disabled, has transformed his life and is now inspiring others, became a Healthy Living Ambassador for Heart Research UK in 2013.

James, 26, who suffers from cerebral palsy, says he changed his lifestyle after attending a disability awareness course run by Rotherham United Community Sports Trust. He realised that all the unhealthy habits being showcased at the event referred to him.  “As I was listening I thought ‘that’s me’ so I decided I needed to deal with it and do something about it,” said James.  “I was sitting on my own at home doing nothing but drinking unhealthy pop and eating nasty food, and my weight had increased to 15 stone.”

He not only lost four stone in weight but took up cycling, began drinking only water, and got out of the house more.  He also felt better about himself which in turn gave him the confidence to go out more.  He’s also been an inspiration to the other disabled people he was trying to encourage as part of his previous role with the “Fitter Life” project at Rotherham United Community Sports Trust, funded by a Heart Research UK Healthy Heart Grant.  He also inspires others in his current work with the Rotherham NHS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service where he is a peer support worker.  “I speak from experience as well as from the heart,” said James.  “They do listen to me and take more in when I speak to them as they are following my example and using me as a role model.”

James became Heart Research UK’s first Healthy Living ambassador, promoting the charity’s work and encouraging others to lead healthy lifestyles through exercise and healthy eating.  He’s delighted to have taken on the role in which he hopes to inspire others to follow his example and change their lives and give themselves more confidence.  “The reason why I wanted to come on board was to help others believe they can achieve something on lifestyle changes like I did,” said James.  “I could see myself seriously getting worse so I have been able to stop myself and change my life and want other people to realise they can do the same.  It is about taking that step and doing something about it.”

James reckons his downward spiral came about when he was moved from mainstream education into a special school.  “I felt really down about it all, and was comfort eating which increased my weight,” he said.

Now he goes into special needs schools and speaks to the youngsters about his own story and how he has managed to change around his own life.  He says his cerebral palsy is getting slightly worse, but he is coping with it using the same motivation and determination he has used to deal with his lifestyle issues.  “It is all about being able to turn a disability into an ability so that you can live life as independently as you can – and not worry what others may think.”

We're proud to have ambassadors like this as we encourage people to look after their hearts so that they can live healthier, happier and longer lives.