YOUNG heart patients across Hampshire can look forward to being treated in their own dedicated unit after the Daily Echo-backed High 5 Appeal smashed its £500,000 target.

After two years of tireless fundraising, work will get under way this summer to make the dream of a |specialist cardiac unit a reality, transforming the hospital experience for hundreds of young cardiac patients.

From those brave enough to showcase their talents on the big stage, to family fun days and High Five-a-thons, Daily Echo readers, along with schools, businesses and community groups, have been through it all to make this specialist ward a reality for those living with heart problems.

Without you and your dedication to making this dream a success, Wessex Heartbeat’s High 5 Appeal would still be trying to raise the £500,000 it needed for this vital unit.

But last night it was revealed, during their flagship Mayflower show Dancing with Choirs that the Daily Echo-backed appeal has smashed its target.

Now work can get under way on a new ward at Southampton General Hospital, transforming the experience for hundreds of young heart patients.

Since the appeal was launched in the Daily Echo in the summer of 2012, the cause has attracted the support of thousands including Saints legends Lawrie McMenemy and Matt Le Tissier, Olympic diver Pete Waterfield and entertainers such as Mike Osman and Brian Conley, many of whom were there last night to hear the news.

But while the celebrations continue, the charity is keen to stress that more money is needed to ensure patients using the ward have everything they need.

Alison Farrell, chief executive of Wessex Heartbeat, said: “Our announcement at the theatre that we have reached our initial £500,000 target was a fantastic tribute to the hundreds of people who have fundraised for, or donated to the High 5 Appeal – people who, like us, care about providing the very best for young people with heart conditions.

“The Heartbeat team and our trustees would like to place on record our huge thanks to each and every one. We could not have done this without them.

“Everyone involved in the appeal, including many of our young patients and the cardiac staff, should be congratulated for achieving something that will make such a major difference to the happiness, independence and well-being of young heart patients in hospital.

“My final thanks goes to the Daily Echo for its support of the High 5 Appeal.

“But our appeal task is not quite over. We will continue to fundraise for all the things that can make a hospital ward feel more like home and give people a greater sense of normality. We know this helps patients’ recovery, which is why it is so important.”

The special new unit is designed to be a home from home for thousands of 16 to 30-year-old heart patients while they are being treated at the hospital.

The unit has become essential thanks to advances in cardiac medicine and surgery, which has seen babies born with heart defects surviving into adulthood and living longer than ever before.

This means there are many more young adults who need ongoing treatment and surgery – currently 8,000 being treated in Southampton with that figure expected to rise by up to 20 per cent over the next decade – resulting in huge demand for the unit.

Fiona Dalton, chief executive of University Hospital Southampton, said: “Patients with heart conditions who make the transition from child to adult care with us will soon be able to do so together in an environment tailored to their needs and that is a truly exciting prospect.

“On behalf of everyone at UHS, I would like to thank Wessex Heartbeat, its supporters and the Daily Echo for their efforts and commitment to such an important cause.”

The ward will include computers, exercise equipment, communal area, quiet room and small kitchen so that youngsters with life-long cardiac conditions can make themselves food and drinks and spend time with and support other people their age with similar conditions.

Cardiac patients over the age of 16 are currently treated in adult wards where most patients are elderly and possibly seriously ill or dying.

Youngsters treated in these wards have said they felt frightened, lonely and isolated during their stay, and it can add stress to both patients and families.

Work on the new unit should start this summer and the charity hope it will be ready for its first patients by the end of the year.

Lawrie McMenemy, a patron of the charity, said: “It’s a fantastic achievement and it has all been done in such a short time and it’s a compliment to Alison Farrell and Ken Wild and the Heartbeat team.

“This sort of thing could happen to anybody and anybody’s family so if you are able to help then why not? All in all it will create a much better atmosphere for youngsters while they’re getting top class treatment.

“I want to say well done to everyone concerned and it’s just another big plus for the Southampton area.”

Matt Le Tissier has also backed the appeal since launch. He added: “I am very pleased to have been a champion of the High 5 Appeal. It’s great news that it’s reached its target.”

Southampton comedian Mike Osman, who has performed at many appeal events, said: “What Wessex Heartbeat does to help people get the best treatment for heart problems is fantastic. I always remind myself that it could be me or my family with heart disease.”