FOOTBALL legend Alan Shearer has pledged to do all he can to raise money for a much-loved North-East children's heart unit.
The former England and Newcastle United striker has accepted the position of patron of the Children's Heart Unit Fund at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle.
He told The Northern Echo: "This is a fantastic chance to help the work of this great unit. North-East people have a great reputation for being generous and I am sure they will dig deep for this charity."
The Freeman has one of the leading specialist heart units in the country and was the first centre in the UK to carry out a heart transplant involving a baby.
While the unit is funded by the NHS, the Children's Heart Unit Fund, known as CHUF, works hard to improve conditions for young patients and their families and to make sure the surgeons have the very best equipment.
After a tour of the unit the former Magpies centre forward said: "When you come here and see some of the little babies and their parents, who are going through a rough time, it is great to be able to help out in any way."
He added: "I am extremely fortunate that I have got three healthy children who have not needed to use these wonderful facilities. Footballers sometimes get a bad name but many do good work. It is important that I should give as much back as I can."
Consultant cardiologist Dr Richard Kirk said it was "fantastic" that Alan Shearer had decided to become patron of CHUF.
"We are all about raising money to help kids with heart problems. This is going to make a big difference to us."
Dr Kirk said the charity needed to spend around £2m on creating better quality accommodation for families at the unit.
CHUF is also trying to raise at least £200,000 to buy state of the art equipment for two additional paediatric intensive care beds which should be opening soon.
The unit currently has ten intensive care beds for children and babies.
This is expected to increase to 12 in anticipation of the Freeman being chosen as one of a handful of units in the country offering children's heart surgery.
Steven Baxter, from Wingate, County Durham, whose son Keiran, 15, is slowly recovering after undergoing a heart transplant earlier this year, said: "We love this place, there is no better set-up anywhere. Shearer will give the charity plenty of clout."
The former footballer also met a promising young centre back, Jack Errington, from Newcastle, who plays for Championship club, Burnley.
Jack recently had surgery on his aortic valve after a routine scan picked up a previously undiagnosed weakness which could have been life-threatening.
Jack, who hopes to be playing football again next season, said it was "really important" for people across the region to back the work of CHUF.