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06 May 2022

ECHO Opening Doors event features School researchers

An online event was held to support and provide families with support, information and a fun activity to enjoy in a safe environment.


Researchers and clinicians from the School of Biomedical Engineering & Imaging Sciences, Centre for Medical Engineering (CME) in association with children’s heart charity Evelina Children’s Heart Organisation (ECHO) held an online festive event, Opening Doors, to provide families with support, information and a fun activity to enjoy in a safe environment.

Samantha Johnson, Chief Executive of ECHO said throughout the pandemic families affected by children’s heart disease were isolated and often seen as highly vulnerable. As time went on it was important to the children’s heart community that ECHO provided opportunities to be together, despite the virtual setting.

Our Opening Doors event was an opportunity to remind our community that doors to medical, psychology and researching teams were still open and although how appointments, meetings and visits had changed, the people were still working and still available to those who needed it. It was an opportunity to consider our own wellbeing as well as hear from clinical teams about issues that face the children’s heart community throughout the pandemic and in day to day life.

Samantha Johnson, Chief Executive of ECHO

“Working in partnership with the CME team gave ECHO a great opportunity to provide an open-door approach to speaking to clinicians, researchers and experts.” The two teams have worked together on several research and collaborative engagement projects over the last 5 years, building a strong working relationship."

82 households participated in the online event, which included a heart-shaped wreath making session, filmed interviews and Q&As with cardiovascular researchers, clinicians and hospital team, ECHO members and staff. It was concluded with a final summary of how both the hospital and heart community have made it through the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr Rachel Sparks, Lecturer in Surgical & Interventional Engineering, School of Biomedical Engineering & Imaging Sciences, gave an interview describing her research and how the COVID-19 pandemic affected her research.

I mostly discussed how the pandemic ended up requiring me to pivot away from neurosurgery, because non-emergency operations were postponed to studies trying to understand who was at a higher risk for COVID-19 using imaging biomarkers, including one study looking at how heart health impacts COVID-19 outcomes.

Dr Rachel Sparks, Lecturer in Surgical & Interventional Engineering

“I think the primary benefit from the event was helping people interested, learn how the pandemic and the strain it imposed on the health system impacted biomedical research, both in negative and positive ways. Finally, as a personal benefit they had a lovely wreath building activity within the event that I really enjoyed,” Dr Sparks said. 

“I took part in the event because I think it is an important part of research to have accountability for decisions, in terms of what we research and how conditions within the medical system inform research topics. I also think it's important for the public to hear about how King’s was a leader in researching SARS-COV2 and understanding the COVID-19 pandemic impact on the NHS.”

One participant said: “Huge thank you to everyone who helped put this event together. It has been extremely informative (even though we are nearly 13 years into our [heart diagnosis] journey) and it is great to hear about everything that goes on in the background that we are not aware of.”

Some young patients and young carers/siblings watched along, enjoyed the wreath workshop and seeing their own team online.

As part of the ongoing partnership, CME researchers are also featured in ECHO’s new magazine Eddie & Friends – a magazine that has been produced especially for children aged 10 and under with heart conditions who are patients in hospital and their siblings.

Eddie & Friends magazine is packed with activities, puzzles, jokes and stickers to help keep children entertained and offer distraction while they recover from surgery or treatment or while they are in hospital with their sibling. The 15-page resource introduces children to Eddie ECHO and his three new friends - Remi and Koko who have heart conditions themselves and Sunny who is a sibling.