KINSALE woman Pam Norris was recognised and honoured by Chernobyl Children International (CCI) this month.
She was recognised for her ambitious fundraising venture which resulted in more than €100,000 being raised for CCI’s cardiac programme. In 2015, Pam marked her 70th birthday by cycling the Wild Atlantic Way.
She completed her ‘Cycle for Baby Hearts’ challenge — a gruelling 2,500km cycle from West Cork to Derry — and raised much-needed funds for those children of Chernobyl who suffer from a congenital heart defect.
The impact of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster lives on. Thirty-four years on, a new generation of children is affected by radiation.
The heart is one of the most vulnerable organs affected by radiation. Many children are born with a condition called ‘Chernobyl Heart’. Many children are not operated on because of the lack of medical facilities and resources. Only half of affected children receive the surgeries they need to survive. The other half die within three to five years.
Four times a year, CCI send a team of surgeons to the Ukraine to perform surgeries on babies and children born with congenital heart defects as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. CCI manages and delivers a world-recognised Cardiac Programme in collaboration with the Novick Cardiac Alliance.
In partnership with the American cardiac surgeon and US CCI board member, Dr William Novick, CCI has reduced waiting lists for cardiac surgeries in Ukraine since its inception in 2008.
Volunteer surgical teams travel to eastern Ukraine to perform surgeries that save young lives and CCI provides financial and logistical support to the cardiac surgeons, in order for them to make these vital journeys.
CCI also provide state of the art medical technology and equipment needed to perform the operations, as well as training local physicians. This training is vital to developing local capacity and skills, enabling local surgical teams to treat the children in their own areas more effectively and successfully.
During each trip, the surgical teams aim to save the lives of between 30 and 40 children. Over 4,000 young lives have been saved in Belarus and the Ukraine, as a result of the cardiac programme.
Pam was the leader of CCI’s Kinsale Outreach Group, a group of families who open up their homes and offer rest and recuperation to children from Chernobyl each year.
Because of the close bonds formed between herself and the children she welcomed into her home and the Kinsale area, Pam felt compelled to do more for the children of Chernobyl. She loves cycling and being outdoors so set herself the task of cycling the Wild Atlantic Way, in order to raise money to help address the needs of children suffering with congenital heart defects.
Before embarking on her journey, Pam was reasonably fit but upped the ante to prepare for the cycle by doing more intensive training, including leg-strengthening exercises, swimming every day, and walking the dog daily.
Pam started her epic cycle on April 24, 2015, which marked the 29th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster. The fearless pensioner said she achieved an average of 60-70km a day and while she did cycle on her own, a support vehicle was nearby in case of any emergencies.
She said: “I was determined to do it one way or another. Thinking of the children’s little faces and knowing that their lives depended on me completing this tough task was what kept me going. It was a daunting mission, but one I felt compelled to do.”
Pam raised money through sponsorship from individuals and companies, along with raffles and auctions. The final donations arrived early this year, which brought the total amount raised to over €100,000.
Because of Covid-19 restrictions, the presentation to mark Pam’s brave and selfless achievement could not take place until this month. A presentation was made to her by CCI’s CEO, Adi Roche.
Adi said: “The people of Kinsale have been involved with us for more than 30 years and they have been fantastic.
“Pam is a shining example of real compassion, commitment, and dedication.
“She leaves an enduring legacy and shows us all that age is no deterrent and one person can truly make a difference.”