Sisters have tackled the English Channel to raise money for charity in memory of their youngest sister who died of a heart attack.

Helen Smith, 50 from Watford and Hayley Brant, 47 from Winnersh took on the swimming challenge in honour of Heather Johnson, who died at 36 years old.

The mother of three had attended the hospital for what should have been a routine operation to shock her heart back into a natural rhythm when she suffered the fatal heart attack.

Since this the sisters have been taking on longer and longer swimming challenges before crossing the channel on Monday, September 18.

Helen said: “Completing the swim was the most amazing feeling in the world, although it has taken some time for the achievement to sink in. We had a picture of Heather attached to the side of the boat so that each time we took a breath we saw her, next to a massive BHF banner.

“She was definitely with us throughout the whole swim and kept us going right through to the very end. We both know that she would be immensely proud of us.

“We have to say a big thank you to our team on the boat for keeping us warm, fed and making sure we had everything we needed, both in and out of the water.

“To everyone who has sponsored us and donated, we couldn’t be more grateful. The work the BHF do is so important and we’re proud to do this in our sister’s memory and for such a fantastic charity.”

The siblings set off from Shakespeare Beach in Dover at 5am on Sunday, September 17 with a boat carrying their support crew and an official observer to make sure they were inside the rules.

After swimming in temperatures of 15 degrees the pair made it the shore of Wissant Bay in France just after midnight on Monday, 19 hours and 19 minutes later.

So far they have raised more than £8,000, for the British Heart Foundation, which will go towards helping to find new ways to beat heart disease, which currently 116,900 people in Hertfordshire are living with.

Hayley said: “We struggled emotionally to cope with Heather’s death for a couple of years afterwards, but swimming was where we found our comfort. It was total solitude and gave us thinking time and space. We could just have a good cry in the pool and no one would know.

“That’s where it all started. We had always loved swimming, it had always been a big part of our childhood, so it was like things had come full circle, even though Heather was no longer here – swimming reunited us.

“We booked the swim two years ago. We knew that it was a massive challenge and that the training was going to be relentless. There have only been about 1450 relay swims across the channel and of those, only 64 were two person relays.”

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