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  • Writer's pictureLove Ballymena

Co Antrim mum hails new £126,466 children’s ambulance as life-changing for heart families

NORTHERN IRELAND’s first bespoke children’s ambulance was officially launched today (Wednesday 25 January 2023) by Children’s Heartbeat Trust, a charity that has been working since 1984 to provide practical, emotional and financial support to children and young people living with heart disease and their families.

In Northern Ireland, approximately 200 children are born with congenital heart disease every year, which often means frequent trips to Dublin and beyond to receive specialist medical treatment including surgery.

According to statistics from the Northern Ireland Specialist Transport and Retrieval (NISTAR), 123 trips were made to or from Dublin for children needing cardiac treatment or surgery in the last 12 months – 87 per cent of these were made by children under the age of one, with the remaining journeys made by children and young people aged between one and 16-years-old.

Following a hugely successful ‘Mile A Day’ fundraising campaign in 2021 in which over £133,000 was raised by the public for the Children’s Heartbeat Trust, the £126,466 bespoke ambulance was commissioned by the charity and the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service, with support from the Northern Ireland Specialist Transport and Retrieval (NISTAR) service.

The purpose was clear – to provide children and their families with a welcoming and comforting space in which to travel at a time when anxiety is often at an all-time high.

Supporting approximately 500 families every year, Joanne McCallister, Chief Executive of Children’s Heartbeat Trust says that the launch of the ambulance is extremely positive for the families assisted by the charity.

“Through our work, we’ve seen first-hand just how stressful travelling backwards and forwards to hospital with an ill child can be. It is a very traumatic time for both children and parents, who often have to take time off work to care for their child which can lead to financial pressures, especially in the current economic climate,” explained Joanne.

“Children’s Heartbeat Trust already supports families emotionally, socially and financially, and our main motivation behind the creation of the ambulance was to help make perhaps one of the most frightening and difficult journeys that little bit easier.”

As well as being fully equipped with the latest specialist medical equipment, the dedicated children’s ambulance has a number of features including space-themed décor on the interior walls, sensory equipment to calm younger children and PlayStation and Tablet facilities to help entertain our young people during the journey. The ambulance is also adapted with wheelchair tracks, enabling older children to make the journey in a wheelchair as opposed to a trolley.

CEO, Joanne McCallister continues: “We hope that the interior look and feel of the ambulance, alongside all the entertainment features available, will put children and their parents more at ease and take their minds off the hospital treatment ahead.” 

Edel McInerney, from Lisburn, whose four-year-old son, Fionn, suffers from Tricuspid Atresia Hypoplastic Right Heart Syndrome, says that the new ambulance will be “lifechanging” and have a “phenomenal” impact on local families.

“Since Fionn was born, we have made multiple journeys to Dublin for scheduled and emergency surgeries which has been extremely stressful. Essentially, only one side of Fionn’s heart works. His oxygen levels are low and he needs regular visits and tests at the Clarke Clinic Cardiology Department,” comments Edel.

“Thinking back to the early days, those trips to Dublin were terrifying – it was literally life and death. I always worried that he would wake up and see the tubes and hear the beeping of the machines. He was oblivious then, but now he’s more aware of his surroundings which leads to a lot of fear.”

Speaking about the introduction of the first children’s ambulance, Edel adds: “Having a purpose-built children’s ambulance with all the critical lifesaving equipment and the added sensory and playful atmosphere will help to take his mind away from the scary reality of living with a critical illness. The new ambulance will be like Fionn’s battleship, preparing him mentally and physically for the next fight.”

Meanwhile, Rosie Byrne, NIAS Director of Operations added: “We’re delighted to have contributed towards the funding of the new children’s ambulance.

“Given the amount of journeys that families have to make each year for their children to avail of life-saving treatment, this ambulance truly is a very much needed service. A lot of effort has been put into the interior and exterior of the ambulance – to make it feel more homely than a typical ambulance – and we really hope that the children benefit from surroundings that they’re more familiar with to make the journey that little bit easier.”

Emma Thompson from NISTAR commented: “Congratulations to Children’s Heartbeat Trust and NIAS for getting this fantastic project off the ground. We are delighted to add this unique vehicle into our fleet and we are confident that it will complement the clinical expertise of our team.  We have no doubt that it will go a long way to providing a comforting space in what can be a very frightening time for children and their families.”

To find out more about Children’s Heartbeat Trust, visit:


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