Student starting cardiac treatments PhD after vow over father’s heart disorder

A student who vowed to find a cure for his father’s terminal heart disorder when he was just 11 years old will next week begin a PhD researching cardiac disease treatments.

Tim Roberts, 26, grew up on 42 acres of land outside Melbourne where his father, Ken, had emigrated from Northern Ireland and become a successful business owner.

“We had a close relationship and me and my brother learnt a lot from him. He was interested in everything and taught us about engines, irrigation, all sorts,” said Mr Roberts.

“Dad had a couple of heart attacks when I was 10 or 11, so since I was young most my memories of my father are him being ill.

“That’s what precipitated my interest in medicine and the biomedical field as a whole.”

In 2009, the family moved 9,000 miles to Texas for a rare form of heart treatment not available elsewhere, but without health insurance it cost them all their savings.

“I was very much aware of the fact that he was really ill. I said goodbye to him many times,” Mr Roberts said.

“But I’m not salty about it. I wouldn’t go back to having all that money – I needed everything that happened to get to this place now.

“If you offered me this life again, even with everything that happened, I’d take it in a heartbeat. The adversity that we’ve been through as a family has made me who I am.”

In 2013 the family moved to Cardiff and Mr Roberts passed his A-levels and secured a place to study pharmacology at the University of Bristol.

His goal remained that of his 11-year-old self: finding a cure for his father’s heart disease.

“I didn’t take any money from my parents. My dad was medically retired and they simply didn’t have any support to give me,” Mr Roberts said.

Although he enjoyed studying at Bristol, his father’s disease continued to loom large.

Tim Roberts with his parents
Tim Roberts with his parents (University of Bristol/PA)

“I knew things were really going to change. I did years of therapy with the university’s mental health services in preparation,” he said.

“Two days before the final exam of my undergrad, my dad called me and said he didn’t have much time left.

“That really hit me. I’d been preparing for 10 years and I thought I was ready, but it was still a huge shock.”

Mr Roberts’ father died in April 2021.

He has now started a PhD at Melbourne’s Monash University, a world leader in pharmacology and heart failure.

He plans to continue researching, either in academia or private industry, to find a cure. He knows that in later life the same heart disease may also affect him and his brother.

“My father instilled in me my work ethic, persistence and resilience,” Mr Roberts said.

“I’ve worked so hard to get here. I thought about giving up many times to help care for dad but knowing that I was doing this for him helped me through.”