BBC'S Strictly Come Dancing charity special
A volunteer at Southampton's teaching hospitals will begin her transition from the ward round to the ballroom when the BBC launches a special series of Strictly Come Dancing.
Heather Parsons, who founded Where there's a Will* to support intensive care patients and their families at Southampton General Hospital, is one of six contestants selected from 11,000 nominees to compete in the first People's Strictly for Comic Relief.
PLEASE VOTE FOR HEATHER AND IAN ON WEDNESDAY 11 MARCH
Catch them on BBC1 at 9pm
As well as trialling their tango and dazzling the dance floor, each individual will experience the full Strictly 'celebrity' package, from photoshoots and makeovers, to intensive training sessions and lunch with the stars.
The first two episodes of the four-part series will see the contestants – all selected for their commitment and dedication to helping others – introduced to viewers before beginning their battle to be crowned the people's champion.
Heather, whose life was saved by experts in the general intensive care unit at Southampton General in 2002 after she developed rare and aggressive soft tissue infection necrotising fasciitis, left her job and re-mortgaged her house after being discharged from hospital so she could give her time to help rehabilitate fellow intensive care patients.
She then launched the charity, which is named after her son and run in partnership with University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust where she is also a governor, and began spending five days a week on the unit running a refreshment, listening and liaison service for families.
She also maintains contact with many discharged patients and families through a monthly support group, along with weekly fitness and pilates sessions and a lunch club to enable participants to socialise and share stories.
Additionally, her organisation offers individual support for people with a particular need, such as trauma therapy, financial advice or specialised physiotherapy, as well as telephone and email contact, to help them continue their recovery and adjust to life at home.
Heather, who has been mentored by former Strictly star Russell Grant and paired with professional ballroom and Latin American dancer Ian Waite, said: “I am indebted to the staff at Southampton General for saving my life and giving me the great privilege of watching my son grow up.
“This is my chance to say thank you by stepping out on to that dance floor and doing my very best.”
Kim Sutton, voluntary services manager at UHS, added: “Heather is a remarkable woman and is thoroughly deserving of this fantastic recognition of her commitment to helping others.
“I think I speak on behalf of everyone at the hospital trust in wishing Heather the best of luck for the competition and we cannot wait to see her in action.”
The contestants' every move will be judged by Strictly favourite Anton du Beke and fellow panel members Darcey Bussell, Bruno Tonioli and head judge Len Goodman.
Like Strictly, viewers will get to vote for their winner after the couples compete in a live special hosted by Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman on 11 March. The winner will then be crowned The People’s Strictly champion live on BBC One as part of Comic Relief night on 13 March.
Money raised will be spent helping to change the lives of poor, vulnerable and disadvantaged people in the UK and across Africa.
Heather appeared on the One Show before the series launch on BBC One on Wednesday 25 February.
Good luck to you Heather from all of us at the charity team.
Heather Parsons, 53, from Southampton
Dance partner: Ian Waite
Heather contracted a flesh-eating bug, necrotising fasciitis, in 2002 while on a skiing holiday with her son Will, who was seven at the time. She suffered a heart attack and organ failure, and underwent 15 operations. She now runs a charity, Where There's A Will, providing emotional support to intensive care patients and their families.
Heather said: "I had an internal muscle tear and the infection just took hold in that injury. I went into septic shock because my body couldn't fight the infection. And the only way they can stop it is to keep cutting away the damaged flesh, so that's what they had to do. They took away part of my leg.
"I met the nurse who took me to theatre that night, about six months afterwards at a social gathering. She said she had never seen anybody that ill. She said she had never shouted at anybody at work, but she shouted at the porters: 'Run with her, she's not going to make it.'
"My charity is called Where There's A Will because my son is called Will, and I'm absolutely convinced I lived for him. My first memory is pulling out lines and thinking, 'I'm just going to go home and check if Will's all right.' I had no idea how ill I was.
"He had turned seven that Christmas, and at the end of Christmas Day he got on my knee and snuggled, like kids do. I was smoothing his hair and I asked what his favourite present was. He just put his arms around me and said, 'You're my favourite present, because you'll never break.' And then in the April I was dying and he didn't have me. That's part of why I fought so hard to be with him.
"In that first 12 months it was hideous. There were nights when I paced the floor and didn't want to be alive.
"Will is amazing, and about a year ago he said to me, 'It's great, isn't it? Because now it's like it never happened.' I hope that's partly because I was so determined to come back and make it as normal as we possibly could.
"He's 20 now and at university. I dance around the house - I'm a real embarrassment!"
Dancer biography courtesy of the Telegraph, photo courtesy of the BBC.
*Where there's a Will is a fund of Southampton Hospital Charity