CHANCES are, you’ve probably heard me talking about more than GAA in recent years — I have done many media interviews on the cardiac issues I have unfortunately experienced.
In the last few years specifically, I have talked at length about my experience of living with a misunderstood condition called heart failure.
I’m one of the estimated 90,000 people living with the condition in Ireland with a further 10,000 diagnosed each year.
Despite the high numbers of Irish people living with heart failure, awareness of the symptoms and understanding of what it is remains low.
So, what does heart failure actually mean?
A recent study commissioned by the Irish Heart Foundation found that almost half of Irish people think that heart failure means that your heart has stopped or shut down, which isn’t the case.
It simply means that the heart isn’t pumping as well as it should because the walls of the heart become too weak or too stiff to work properly.
The words ‘heart failure’ themselves bring up scary connotations, which adds to the misunderstanding and confusion around the condition.
While heart failure is a serious condition, the good news is that people with heart failure can live a full and active life if the condition is detected and treated early. I am living proof that you can live a great second half!
I’m working with the Irish Heart Foundation on their ‘Don’t Ignore the Signs of Heart Failure’ campaign, supported by Novartis, which aims to raise awareness of the warning signs of heart failure and encourage people to take action and speak to their GP.
The main warning signs of heart failure are shortness of breath, swollen ankles and fatigue.
It’s human nature to try to ‘explain away’ symptoms when we are ill, we don’t want to confront the fact that something might be wrong, at least that was my experience.
Looking back, I was experiencing all the classic symptoms of heart failure — I was constantly tired, my ankles were swollen, and I would wake up at night panting for breath — but I didn’t want to admit something was wrong for a long time.
This situation really became pronounced for me at the height of Sunday Game season in 2012, so I put it down to my hectic schedule. Thankfully, I eventually heeded the warning signs that were in front of me and got professional help before it was too late.
My main message is simple for anyone reading this, nodding along, thinking that my story sounds familiar… Don’t ignore the signs of heart failure.
I would urge anyone experiencing symptoms like shortness of breath, fatigue and swollen ankles to contact their GP without delay.
While I thoroughly enjoyed my career, I have to say that I am relishing my retirement, spending more time doing other things I love and enjoying quality time with my family.
I’m able to do this by actively looking after my health.
It is possible to live well with heart failure — it doesn’t have to slow you down once treated properly.
I still enjoy everything, even my rally driving! — but the key is to heed the warning signs and be smart about managing your health.
I’ll be speaking about my experience of living with heart failure at a free Patient Information Evening organised by the Irish Heart Foundation tomorrow, May 2, in the Clayton Hotel Silver Springs, Cork, from 6.30pm.
I’ll also be joined by a series of medical experts in cardiology including Proferssor Carl Vaughan, Consultant Cardiologist at the Mercy University Hospital, Cork, and Annette O’Connell, Heart Failure Nurse at the Cork University Hospital.
The Irish Heart Foundation will also launch a new heart support group for people in Cork living with cardiac conditions, including heart failure, on the night, so I hope to see as many of you there as possible.
To register to attend the Patient Information Evening tomorrow, and for further information on the Irish Heart Foundation’s awareness campaign, please visit KnowYourHeart.ie.