John taking on Great North Run to fund research into son’s rare heart condition

John Archer and Maureen Keith are to take part in the Great North Run for British Heart Foundation. Middle John Archer (jnr)
John Archer and Maureen Keith are to take part in the Great North Run for British Heart Foundation. Middle John Archer (jnr)

A loving dad is taking on the Great North Run to help pay for research into his son’s rare heart condition.

John Archer’s son, also named John, has been diagnosed with brugada syndrome, a serious condition that can result in abnormally rapid heart rhythms which can be fatal.

John Archer and Maureen Keith are to take part in the Great North Run for British Heart Foundation

John Archer and Maureen Keith are to take part in the Great North Run for British Heart Foundation

John, of Greens Place, South Shields, says the condition is similar to sudden adult death syndrome (SADS), and could strike at any time.

The former Royal Navy admiral staff is taking on the 13.1-mile run from Newcastle to his home town on Sunday, September 11, for the British Heart Foundation.

He’ll be running with Maureen Keith, 60, mum of 34-year-old teacher John jnr’s girlfriend Val Flynn.

John, 60, took part in the first ever Great North Run back in 1981, but hasn’t done the half marathon for around 25 years.

He also sees tackling the event as a fun way to mark his 60th year.

John, who has four children and three grandchildren, said: “It’s a fatal heart condition, a bit like SADS where you can just drop down dead at any time.

“It’s genetic so we’ve all had to be tested for it, but the doctors have said John is the only one who appears to have it.

“My dad, who was also called John, died from heart disease in 1989 when he was 69. At the time, they didn’t know about brugada so it could have been that, but we’ll never know.”

John says his son’s condition was found after he collapsed one night at home. His partner Val called for an ambulance and he was taken to South Tyneside District Hospital.

John, a former civil servant, said: “Luckily, the doctor who was the consultant in A&E that night was a heart specialist and after sending John for an ECG he noticed something was wrong.

“He sent stuff over to the RVI, where all the heart specialists are, and they identified that he had brugada.

“They operated on him the next day and fitted a device in his heart, sort of like a pacemaker. When brugada goes off, it speeds up your heart and this device lets out a shock and brings his heart back to the normal rhythm.

“When the doctor came in to see John, he actually shook his hand and said he’d never met anyone with the condition before – it’s something they only usually find when they do a post mortem exam on someone.”

John jnr’s case is so rare that he now undergoes regular tests, helping doctors learn more about brugada.

His dad said: “He’s sort of like a guinea pig. He was asked if he’d do some tests to help doctors learn more about his condition and he immediately said yes. He goes to the Life Centre, in Newcastle, to see researchers.

“After he was diagnosed, everyone in the family had to be tested for it. They say it doesn’t look like anyone else has it, but not a lot is known about the condition, so they can’t say 100% that we don’t – it could still happen to any of us at any time.

“The doctors told us all that we have to try not to worry about it, and just live our lives the same way we would have before, and that’s right, we can’t always worry that something is going to happen.

“But I do worry about John and my grandkids. John and Val haven’t even started a family yet, and now they’ll have to worry about passing this on.

“Doctors think John might be the beginning of brugada in the family – it has to start somewhere – but we don’t know for sure.”

He added: “Doing the Great North Run is my way of giving something back and to help research into the condition.

“Doing the race along with Maureen is going to be great. We’re starting off in different bits but we’re going to try to stay together for of much of it as we can.

“There’s no better feeling than running from Newcastle into South Shields, back to your home town, with the crowd cheering for you.”

To sponsor John, go to justgiving.com/fundraising/john-archer2