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Brave former soldier from Ayrshire’s clinical trials bid in daughter’s memory

A former soldier is taking part in clinical research trials in memory of his beloved daughter who died following a rare heart condition.

Alex Cowie, 51, from Girvan hopes the trials at a leading cardiology research centre will stop other families going through the same torment he suffered.

Alex, who is a former Royal Engineer in the British Army, lost his daughter Erika shortly after she turned 18.

Erika was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary arterial hypertension, which has a low life expectancy, when she was 10 back in 2008.

Sadly, Erika lost her battle with the disease a few years later.

Alex also has a serious heart condition which has prompted him to undergo clinical trials at the Golden Jubilee National Hospital in Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire.

Alex has pulmonary arterial hypertension, a rare, progressive disorder that causes high blood pressure in the vessels which supply the lungs.

It’s a serious condition that can damage the right side of the heart and causes shortness of breath, tiredness, dizziness, chest pain and palpitations.

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Despite his condition being hereditary, Alex was only diagnosed with it five years ago and now he wants to do all he can to help others in a similar position.

So far, he’s taken part in three research trials.

Alex said: “The main reason I put myself forward for doing the clinical trials is because of my daughter.

“They said she would only live for a couple of years after her diagnosis, so she did really well for eight years.

“It was such a shock at the time, me getting diagnosed and then she lost her battle. It was really hard.”

After Erika’s death, Alex and partner Joanne moved back to Scotland where he began receiving treatment from the NHS Golden Jubilee at the Scottish pulmonary vascular unit (SPVU).

It was at this stage he began taking part in clinical trials at the Research Institute, in the hope that other families can avoid the pain he experienced.

He said: “If the clinical trials don’t benefit me, they might benefit someone else and that is my motivation.

“Overall, there aren’t that many people with pulmonary hypertension so the more data they can collect it might just help somebody one day, so that’s my main driving force.”

Up until his diagnosis, Alex had only ever suffered dizzy spells and never reported any other symptoms.

He said: “I was in the army, I’ve ran a marathon, I’d always been physically active, I trained and taught martial arts for over 10 years and did mountain biking, so it was quite a shock when I received my diagnosis.”

One of the main trials Alex has taken part in is the TRACE study, set up to investigate the effect of the drug Selexipag on a patient’s daily life and activity levels, which were assessed by a wrist worn accelerometer – similar to a fitness watch.

Alex added: “I was doing a clinical trial down in Bath and then I started doing one with Selexipag here and that actually changed my whole life compared to what I could do before I started taking that drug for my condition.

“Other drugs I was on gave me a lot of side effects like sore heads, sickness and tiredness, but now I’m able to go back to work part-time and do a physical job of working on the golf course near where I live throughout the summer.

“I’m now gradually getting my fitness back up to previous levels, so it’s been a massive improvement for me and everything seems to be going well at the moment.”

Val Irvine – the senior research nurse leading on the SPVU portfolio of research projects – said: “We are so grateful to people like Alex, who give us their time and support to take part in our trials.

“Knowing why Alex does these trials really does bring home just how important studies like this are, with the potential to make such a huge difference to so many people and their families.”

Head of Research at NHS Golden Jubilee, Dr Catherine Sinclair, said: “Making our research more accessible and visible is vital.”

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