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Local schoolgirl ‘wants to be a wrestler’ despite heart condition

YOUNG Brackyn McElhinney may have a heart condition, but that doesn’t stop her smiling, living a normal life… or wanting to become a wrestler when she grows up!

Exercising at home to become fit and strong, while also attending ju-jitsu classes are part and parcel of the 11-year-old’s life, as are perfectly balancing her friendships, school work and twice-daily medication – and all while managing her Rheumatic Heart Disease.

The above is exactly why the Omagh student’s mother, Catriona says Brackyn is ‘the strongest little girl she knows’, and today the loving parent hopes to share the Loreto Grammar student’s story to raise funds and awareness for children across the North with heart problems.
Alongside Catriona, Brackyn lives in Omagh with her father, Terry, brothers, Odhran (13) and Frankie (6), and sisters, Eowyn (9) and Yvonne (4).

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‘Messy handwriting’

Brackyn first became unwell when she was just nine-years-old, but her initial symptoms were so simple and subtle that they could have easily been overlooked.

“We initially noticed that Brackyn’s handwriting had become very messy,” Catriona explained. “We asked Brackyn about it, and she said that she couldn’t hold her pencil properly. Then later, she had difficulties with her buttons.

“Her right hand just seemed to hang there, and later her fingers and wrist would start moving on their own.

“Then it started to move into her right leg, and her speech was also affected.”

But unfortunately Brackyn’s journey from initial symptoms to diagnosis was a long one. She attended local doctors and the Enniskillen hospital before being referred to a neurologist in Belfast. There, she underwent two MRI scans and a lumbar puncture, before being moved to the Enniskillen Hospital, where she was put on a specialised medicinal drip.

“Within a week of getting the drip, Brackyn’s walking, writing and talking returned to normal,” Catriona described.

At first, doctors diagnosed Brackyn with Syndenham’s chorea, which they think came from strep throat.

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But a year later, the McElhinney famlly received a letter saying that Brackyn ‘needed to get her heart checked’, and it eventually transpired that Brackyn had Rheumatic Heart Disease.

“The Sydenham’s has since gone, and thankfully she has no symptoms that affect her now,” Catriona said.

“Today, Brackyn leads a normal life, and she exercises at home to become fit and strong as I know she wants to become a wrestler when she’s older.

“But she will not be able to drink, smoke or have piercings or tattos in the future, and she is on penicillin twice daily to prevent her getting any infections or strep throat again.

“Brackyn also has to use a special toothpaste and is only allowed to be seen by a hospital dentist, as any infection could prove fatal for her.

“However it’s important to stay positive, and my best advice to any parent going through the same as us is this: Let your child lead as normal a life as possible, teach them to have a healthy diet – and most importantly, give them as much love and support as you can.”

Catriona concluded by expressing a massive thank you to everyone who attended recent fundraising events in aid of the Children’s Heartbeat Trust, including her tea party, Omagh Ju-jitsu Club’s extravaganza, and a raffle, as hundreds of pounds have been raised for the charity.

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