Tuesday, 27 Feb 2024

Double heart attack survivor, 106, given award by prime minister

Joan Willett is an incredible woman – and not just due to her impressive age.

The 106-year-old survived her second heart attack in her eighties, which would have been plenty reason for most people to rest up and relax for the remainder of their lives.

But not for Joan. The former teacher instead used her extra shot at life to make a difference and raise thousands for charity.

After watching Captain Tom on TV during the Covid-19 pandemic she was inspired to use her daily exercise to help fund heart research.

She said her bypass surgery and heart valve replacement helped her reach 100 and beyond – and wants others to have the same opportunities in life.

After her second heart attack Joan went to live at Old Hastings House care home in Hastings, East Sussex, and started walking up and down a steep hill outside several times a day to stay fit during lockdown.

Some 17 miles and her 104th birthday later, she had raised £60,000 for the British Heart Foundation.

And now just ahead of her 107th birthday, she’s received a Points of Light Award from the prime minister, given to ordinary people doing extraordinary things for their community.

Joan said: ‘It’s a huge surprise to receive this award from the prime minister and lovely that my MP thought of me and made the nomination. I feel very honoured and flattered, but I don’t think I have done anything special.

‘During the pandemic I was inspired by watching Captain Tom to do my walk for the British Heart Foundation because thanks to their research I have been able to reach the age I am and still enjoy life.

‘I’m also so grateful that I came to live at my care home after my second heart attack, because the staff are wonderful and have made sure that I keep my independence which is so important to me.

‘My friend and carer here, Pauline, supported me all the way throughout… I never thought when I came to live here over 20 years ago, I’d be famous!

‘The best thing about all this – apart from raising the money to help others – was seeing how kind people have been – particularly friends and strangers from as far afield as Australia and Canada who supported me and donated.

‘You only hear about the bad things in the world, but this has given me great faith in humanity.’

Joan said she still walks every day to retain her independence, accompanied by a seagull she has named Bertie.

She was shortlisted for a regional Pride of Britain Award and was sent a personal message by the late Captain Sir Tom Moore before his death.

Her name was in lights on the iconic Piccadilly Circus billboard in London, and the hill she climbed was even named ‘Willett Way’ after her.

Joan, who was nominated for the award by her MP Sally-Ann Hart, received her certificate on Wednesday.

A personal letter from Rishi Sunak accompanying the award read: ‘Following your life-saving heart surgeries, you have found a wonderful way to give back to others and support a charity that means so much to you.

‘Inspired by fellow centenarian, the late Captain Sir Tom Moore, your daily exercise has not only captured the imagination of your fellow care home residents – but inspired people from all across your community and far beyond.’

You can take on your own challenge for the British Heart Foundation by signing up on the charity’s website.

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