Teenager's 100 mile kayak in thanks for Granddad's care

09 May 2017

When James Mitchell from Romford began experiencing severe pain across his shoulders and back one evening in January, he knew a visit to his local hospital was inevitable.

What he didn’t know until he’d driven himself to A&E was that he was suffering a heart attack and rapidly developing complications meant he needed to be transferred for surgery at the Barts Heart Centre, St Bartholomew’s Hospital.

At the hospital, a cardiac catheterisation procedure was performed by Dr Roshan Weerackody (pictured above, right) and James’ life was saved. Following a short period of recuperation, he was able to return home.

The heart attack naturally had a big impact on his family, especially 14-year-old granddaughter Lillie, who described hearing the news as “the scariest thing I had ever heard. From that moment on my life changed and I quickly realised how easy it could've been to lose him.”

Lillie quickly decided she wanted to repay the cardiac team who had treated her grandfather and chose to combine her passion for kayaking with a genuinely extreme challenge to raise essential funds for Barts Charity, supporting the Barts Heart Centre.   

Lillie said: “I would like to raise as much money as possible for the Barts Heart Centre because every girl, no matter how old they are, needs their Granddad in their life.”

With the help of her coach and mother Natalie, Lillie created a 100 mile route in Southend, commencing 24th July, where she'll face tidal forces as well as all the other hazards produced by a solo kayak.

Taking four days, the mammoth route will be ten times further than Lillie has paddled before and will make her the youngest person to have kayaked that distance – with Granddad jumping in the kayak for the final mile.

“It’s massive,  a huge challenge,” says Lillie’s mum Natalie, “and we have scheduled lots of safety training including how to resurface after capsizing.

Lillie adds: “I’m really nervous, but training really hard.

As if preparing for this challenge was not enough, Lillie is training to be a lifeguard at the kayak club, undertaking a Duke of Edinburgh award and studying a three-year GCSE course! Lillie’s mum added: “as parents we’re always proud of her, she works so hard!”

When asked if she wants to be professional kayaker in future, Lillie said: “I wanted to be a vet but since Granddad’s heart attack I’m thinking of becoming a doctor instead.”

Proud Granddad James is now fighting fit, and in March had the opportunity to meet up with the doctors who saved his life – a unique and significant experience for both him and the doctors: “I can't thank the staff enough for fixing me and making it possible for me to see Lillie crossing the finish line.”

Follow us on social media to keep up to date with Lillie's challenge. 

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