MORE than a hundred balloons were released last Friday in honour of a six-year-old Corsham primary school pupil suffering life-long heart problems.

Alice Pheby, a year two pupil at St Patrick's Catholic Primary School, has suffered from complex heart problems, has had several open heart operations and has required constant tests to assess her health since she was born.

A group of primary school children, parents and South West Children's Heart Circle supporters met to release the one blue and 144 red balloons representing the one in every 145 children born with a heart condition.

The launch was one of a number of national events organised by the Children's Heart Foundation, an umbrella organisation for charities representing children with heart disease. The South West Children's Heart Circle is a regional group that helps to support children suffering from congenital heart disease (CHD) and their families.

Most types of congenital heart disease involve a deformity within the heart or the large blood vessels connected to the heart, this affliction accounts for 50 per cent of infant deaths.

Alice's mother, Lena Pheby, said: "As the parent of a child with very complex heart problems, without these charities it would be a struggle to care for her.

"Because of the help they provide, I can care for Alice without having to drive backwards and forwards from Bristol hospital to have her health monitored, I can do it from home."

Alice needs regular blood tests which would usually be carried out in hospital, but Mrs Pheby said that thanks to South West Children's Heart Circle she can carry out many tasks which may be distressing for Alice in the comfortable and familiar surroundings of their own home.

Mrs Pheby, who has two other children, one also at St Patrick's Catholic school and a younger child due to start in September, said: "These charities help provide medical equipment and research resources as well as support for parents.

"They just make living with CHD more bearable for parents and children."

National director for heart disease, Roger Boyle, also addressed the needs of children born with heart defects and highlighted the differences between congenital heart disease and coronary heart disease in a speech at the House of Commons on Tuesday.

Coronary heart disease is a preventable disease that kills more than 110,000 people in England every year.

More than 1.4 million people in the UK suffer from angina and 275,000 people annually have a heart attack making coronary heart disease the biggest killer in the country.

Accompanying Mr Boyle were parent representatives from support groups all over the country and a host of MPs wishing to boost awareness of congenital heart disease in infants.

Mrs Pheby added: "We just want to make people aware that this problem is more common than they would think. There are over 5,000 children in the UK born with CHD each year and most of these cases couldn't be detected throughout pregnancy like most heart defects, so it's important that parents are informed."

Anybody wishing to make donations to the South West Children's Heart Circle can make cheques payable to charity no 267323.