A COMBER head teacher who suffered a heart attack after trying to get fit during lockdown has become a passionate advocate for heart health.
Father of three, Ralph Magee felt chest pains when he exercised, when, like most of the nation, he aimed to become healthier when the Covid outbreak restricted people to home turf.
But after first ignoring chest pains, he finally decided to go to hospital to have them checked out, only to learn the shocking news that he had suffered a heart attack and required stents.
Now he wants to alert people to the symptoms of a heart attack and will this month be flying the flag for the NI Chest Heart and Stroke Association’s (NICHS) Red Dress Fun Run at Stormont.
This year’s event marks the third time Ralph will take on the NICHS five kilometre event – which participants can run or walk, and which aims to raise funds for the charity’s care and prevention services and research as well as awareness of heart disease.
Ralph, principal at Andrews Memorial Primary School in Comber, never thought the occasional pains in his chest while exercising were signs of a heart attack.
Aged 56, Ralph had already been told during a NICHS health check carried out at his school in 2020, that he had high cholesterol levels and needed to be more diligent about healthy eating and exercise.
Ralph said: “At the time, I knew I was a bit heavier than I should be. I was exercising but not eating as healthily as I could have been. I also wanted to find out about my cholesterol, because it had been high a few years before and I had been on statins, before getting off them by reducing my cholesterol through exercise.
“I went along to the check and was told pretty much what I expected. The NICHS Health Promotion Officer confirmed my high cholesterol levels and advised me to take the next 12 weeks to look after my diet and exercise, then to go to my GP and get my cholesterol checked again. If it went down, it would show I was in control of it, and if not, then I would need statins again.”
With lockdown beginning, Ralph started going out on his bicycle, during great weather but felt discomfort in his chest.
“I started going out on my bike and running but going uphill I had to stop because of chest discomfort. At that time, I didn’t see it as pain. I didn’t think I was having a heart attack. I was able to stop, take a drink and cycle on, so I thought I was fine.
“With running I was really struggling though. Overall, I knew something wasn’t right. One day I was walking our dog up a little hill and felt the discomfort again and knew I needed to go to hospital.”
It was in hospital that Ralph received a very unexpected shock, learning that he needed to have a stent fitted, and that he had suffered a heart attack.
After his life-changing event, Ralph got involved in supporting NICHS through fundraising.
“I saw an advert for the charity’s Red Dress Fun Run. Due to the personal connection it meant something to me and I thought I should support the event. I had started to run again as part of my recovery after my heart attack and I was enjoying it, so I decided to do a 10km run with my friends and two sons in the local area and raise money via a JustGiving page.”
It was this time last year that Ralph decided to get his pupils involved too.
“We registered the school for the Primary Schools’ Red Dress Fun Run. Some classes do the Daily Mile which is designed to get kids outside for 15 minutes a day, and we just made it more fun. We jogged, walked and danced dressed in red. We also held a school assembly where I explained to the children a bit about what had happened to me. All of it helped raise funds for the charity,” he said.
But Ralph’s fundraising streak wasn’t over.
“In 2022, I also decided to take part in the Belfast City Half Marathon supporting NICHS. I was running around 8 miles, so it was an achievable goal.”
Now, Ralph is passionate about raising awareness and supporting education around heart health, which is why he’s backing February’s Red Dress Fun Run 2023.
“At the time of my heart attack, I said ‘why me?’ I was told ‘you’re in your fifties living in Northern Ireland, it’s basically a target on your back’. It’s so common here and it’s not going away so education is something I feel strongly about- educating people and improving lifestyles is very important.”
For more information or to sign up visit www.nichs.org.uk/RedDressFunRun
Ralph Magee is taking on the Red Dress Fun Run for the third time after suffering a heart attack.
Ralph and pupils at Andrews Memorial Primary School took part in last year’s Primary Schools’ Red Dress Fun Run.
Andrews Memorial Primary School pupils raised £620 for NICHS through their involvement in last year’s Primary Schools’ Red Dress Fun Run.