Dad who lost family to heart disease now fighting for every heartbeat

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Pensioner James McDonald survived double heart bypass surgery to beat the odds - then suffered the anguish of seeing a son and step-daughter both die of heart attacks less than a decade later - and just three years apart.

His family life was thrown into turmoil when he lost Scott at the age of 38 in October 2013, and then Joanne in December last year when she was just 42.

But, with the support of Frances, his partner for the last 32 years, he has somehow managed to channel the grief and pain those tragedies brought him into publishing a book of poems he hopes will raise money for the cardiology department at Forth Valley Royal Hospital in Larbert and raise awareness of the dangers of coronary heart disease.

The 25 poems featured in ‘Poems from the Bottom Drawer’ are just that - a collection of writings the 65-year-old has amassed over the years as a member and former chairman of Falkirk Writers Circle and inspired by the people he worked for and the people he met during his 48 years in the painting and decorating trade - before being put away in a bottom drawer and forgotten about.

James, who was born in Laurieston but now lives in Falkirk, has been a busy member of his community most of his adult life and already has a long history of public voluntary service to his credit.

As a founder member of the ‘Gordon Loungers’, a group of like-minded mates who used to meet in the pub in Thornhill Road during the week to plan their weekend climbs, he took hundreds of groups hill walking to raise money for local charities.

Over the years his love of Scotland’s National Bard saw him visit local hospitals and old folks homes to perform not only classic Burns but also his own works, and as a member of Falkirk & District Arts and Civic Council he has been instrumental in delivering a number of important events to the town including many successful Tryst Festivals and hosting the National Mod in 2008.

It is from this varied background that the material for Poems from the Bottom Drawer has been sourced. Included are a selection of the articles he wrote for his Walk of the Day Column in the Scotland on Sunday newspaper between 1999 and 2000 which was followed up in 2004 with his first publication, Walk of the Week.

James was pleased with the interest shown in his ‘debut’ book, but the success of Poems from the Bottom Drawer is much more important to him.

He said: “While it is dedicated to our son, Scott, and daughter, Joanne, who we lost so suddenly to heart attacks in the last few years, its purpose is to raise funds for the cardiology department at Forth Valley Royal Hospital.

“Scott died suddenly in 2013, but it was from a heart condition he was born with that none of us knew anything about. Although Joanne did have other health issues, her heart attack was just as sudden and unexpected, so it is with this in mind that I’m also trying to raise awareness of the dangers of heart disease and point out it can happen to anyone at any age. Around three in ten of all deaths are attributed to coronary heart disease, with Scotland having the worst record in the UK.”

James, who since his double bypass in 2009 was back in Forth Valley Royal to be fitted with an implanted cardioverter defibrillator last October, added: “Poems from the Bottom Drawer is a way to remind everyone of the importance of fighting for every heart beat. By buying a copy, you will not only be making a donation to help Forth Valley Royal Hospital’s cardiology department continue its great work, but remind yourself how important it is to look after your heart.

“All the poems included are from the huge number I’ve penned over the years with the Writer’s Circle which have been drawn from my experiences, then tucked away in a cupboard or bottom drawer for safe keeping and forgotten about, but I hope the reader finds my selection interesting.

“When writers reach a certain age, like me, they will find themselves with volumes of work hidden away in all sorts of places. Sometimes they can be dusted down and ‘tweaked’ for another competition or reading at a summer social, but I thought this particular collection was worth putting together and hoping it will prove popular and help such a good cause.”

Only 200 copies of Poems from the Bottom Drawer have been printed.

Priced at £7.50, they can be ordered by contacting James at jimmyfwc1952@outlook.com

The importance of keeping fit to maintain a healthy heart has once again been highlighted by The British Heart Foundation.

Latest figures show a staggering 1.6 million adults in Scotland are failing to meet the level of physical activity recommended - significantly increasing their risk of heart disease and early death.

Launching next month’s 2017 MyMarathon Challenge which allows competitors to complete the 26.2 miles in their own time by doing things like running to work every morning, jogging at lunchtime or doing laps around the park in the evenings, associate medical director Dr Mike Knapton said: “In the UK alone physical inactivity causes one in ten premature deaths from coronary heart disease and one in six deaths overall. But getting active doesn’t have to be difficult. By entering BHFs MyMarathon you decide the place and you decide the pace.”

To sign up, visit bhf.org.uk/mymarathon for helpful tips and advice on how to get started. Over 30,000 took part last year raising over £1 million for life saving heart research.