Ashley prepares for epic ride from Horncastle to Leeds for his daughter Iris

The Bell family -  Enza (3), dad Ashley,  Iris (16 months) and mum Sophie at their home in Horncastle. Photo: John Aron
The Bell family - Enza (3), dad Ashley, Iris (16 months) and mum Sophie at their home in Horncastle. Photo: John Aron

This Saturday, Ashley Bell and almost 40 of his friends and colleagues will leave Horncastle at the start of a 100-mile cycle ride to Leeds.

It promises to be a gruelling challenge.

Ashley Bell describes Iris (pictured) as 'our little miracle'.

Ashley Bell describes Iris (pictured) as 'our little miracle'.

However, Ashley - and all the other riders - won’t be short of motivation to complete every stamina-sapping turn of the wheel.

Their destination is Leeds General Infirmary where surgeons saved the life of Ashley’s baby daughter Iris almost 12 months ago.

Iris was born with a congenital heart disease called severe mitral regurgitation.

It is a rare condition that causes blood to flow the wrong way inside the heart.

Because Iris’s valve wasn’t working properly, her little body struggled to process fluids and she would vomit every time she was fed.

With her life in the balance, Iris underwent open heart surgery at the age of just five months to replace the damaged valve with a mechanical one.

It is a complex procedure and Ashley and wife Sophie were warned by consultant cardiac surgeon Osama Jaber that because of the risks involved, the operation was a ‘last resort.’

Sophie recalls: “Her life was literally in his hands.”

Only a small number of surgeons in the UK had performed the operation.

The surgeon who performed the life-saving operation on baby Iris Bell has praised what he called a ‘team effort.’

Dr Osama Jaber also thanked Mr and Mrs Bell for nominating him in a campaign run by the Leeds Evening Post to highlight the region’’s hardworking NHS staff.

Dr Jaber told the Evening Post: “Every child that I treat is like my own and I was really quite emotional when I was told about this nomination.

“Just to hear such kind words is fantastic.

“It is an absolute honour to be nominated and I am extremely grateful and humbled by the experience.

“Of course, I don’t work alone and everything that we do here (Leeds GI) is part of a team effort.

“Without the team around me, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do.

“Everyone plays their part.”

However, 10 months on and the beaming smile on Iris’s face as she plays alongside big sister Enza (3) says it all.

Ashley and Sophie say the can’t thank Dr Jaber and the NHS enough and describe the operation as a ‘miracle.’

They add: “The man really is a hero...not only to Iris but to so many other children.”

As a way of saying thanks, the couple have already raised £11,785 for the Children’s Heart Surgery Fund.

And, as a result of Saturday’s marathon, they hope to smash the £12,000 barrier.

Ashley admits the support the family had received is ‘unbelievable.’

He adds: “It’s as though the entire town has got involved. We’re so grateful.”

That support was highlighted when the idea of a bike ride was first muted.

Ashley thought at one point it might be just a handful of people taking part, but the list of riders who wanted to join him just grew and grew.

Many of the cyclists are from Horncastle Town Football Club - and the Wongers Wheelers.

Ashley admitted: “I haven’t been on a bike since I was a kid. I’ve been training, but the thought of 100 miles is frightening. We drove the course the other day - and that was hard enough!”

Nothing, though, will stop Ashley.

He explains: “Iris is doing really well. She’s our little miracle. She’s amazing.”

Iris will require further surgery when she’s older to replace the mechanical heart valve with a bigger one, as she continues to grow.

Mum Sophie adds: “It (the surgery) was frightening but it is incredible what surgeons can do.

“We can’t fault the NHS. We have had nothing but first class service.”

The couple had no hesitation nominating Dr Jaber as part of a campaign to praise the region’s hard working and often unseen NHS staff.

Sophie adds: “No salary he is paid will ever be enough for the magnificent work he is highly skilled in doing. This man truly deserves a medal.”

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