Volunteer says goodbye to British Heart Foundation after 20 years

GRATEFUL heart patient Dorothy Edwards has ploughed almost 20 years of her life into a charity shop that supports research and treatment to help other people like her.

Now, aged 89, she is reluctantly saying goodbye to friends and customers at the Great Yarmouth British Heart Foundation charity shop in the Market Place, where she has been volunteering virtually since it opened in May 1992.

Twenty years ago, having led an active life, she had no idea she had heart problems until she collapsed by a busy road while pushing her 18-month-old granddaughter in a buggy.

Surgery at Papworth Hospital, Cambridge, followed – and now she is reckoned the longest surviving patient to have a replacement pig’s heart valve.

Mrs Edwards, from Bradwell, who is known by her middle name, Irene, said: “I was told it would only be for ten to 12 years but it’s still doing the job nearly 20 years on.

“When I was back on my feet I decided to offer my free time to the local BHF shop. I enjoyed every minute and really felt I was giving something back.

“It has been a great time,” she said. “And I’m so glad I did it. I just wish I could have done the full 20 years.”

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However, following difficult and painful treatment for breast cancer, she has been forced to give up her voluntary work, the loss of her husband five months ago after almost 60 years of marriage adding to her trauma.

“After my operation I felt the recovery would be swift, unfortunately as time has gone on the flexibility and strength in my arms are not what they used to be and I get tired very easily.

“If I could I would go back to my volunteer role tomorrow, as I know just how my help was making a difference. I hope that people still think about volunteering their time as it really does save the charity so much money that they can spend it on life-saving research to help heart patients like me.”

Born in Rutland, Mrs Edwards is the second eldest of ten children. She travelled the world with her RAF husband, at one stage living in the heart of Baghdad. Her Norwich-based son is also a supporter of BHF, organising tournaments at Gorleston Golf Club.

Yarmouth shop manager Jane Hare said: “We were extremely lucky to have Irene’s support for so many years. We all miss her in the shop and enjoy her visits when she pops in to see us.

“We hope all our volunteers find their experience with us rewarding and enjoyable, and we welcome new faces into the shop.”

BHF Shops last year raised �22 million to fight heart disease – the nation’s biggest killer. The charity has recently seen a rise in male volunteers which coincides with increased unemployment.

The BHF also points to the expansion of its furniture and electrical stores which offer more traditionally masculine roles including warehouse assistants and electrical function testers.

If you would like to volunteer some time call in to your local shop at 26 Market Place, or call 01493 842767.