Positive health outcomes for ‘Our Hearts, Our Minds’

Participants in the 'Our Hearts Our Minds' programme pictured at the Foyle Arena in Derry.
Participants in the 'Our Hearts Our Minds' programme pictured at the Foyle Arena in Derry.

Cardiovascular patients in the Western Health and Social Care Trust (Western Trust) are reaping the benefits of an innovative lifestyle cardiology programme.

The unique 12 week ‘Our Hearts, Our Minds’ programme, which is part of NI’s Health Transformation agenda, has been seeing positive changes in patients who have completed it since its launch in April 2019.

Designed especially for patients living with cardiovascular disease or at risk of developing it, the programme is based on research carried out at Imperial College, London. One of the key concepts of the programme is that patients can complete the programme alongside their relative/partner which, ultimately, makes lifestyle changes much easier, more enjoyable and longer lasting.

Following a detailed assessment, participants are then invited to take part in a weekly exercise and education programme at local leisure centres.

Leading the delivery of the programme is Dr Susan Connolly, Western Trust Consultant Cardiologist, who says: “I am delighted to see such excellent preliminary results, as well as the very positive feedback received from the patients who have already completed the programme. We have seen real improvements in physical fitness levels and healthier dietary patterns with accompanying weight loss. Blood pressure and cholesterol levels have also reduced substantially in the participants. These impressive results are due to the significant changes people have made to their lifestyles through the help and support of the Cardiovascular Nurse Specialists, supported by a skilled multidisciplinary team (including dieticians, physiotherapist/exercise professionals, and psychologists).”

Dr Connolly added: “This is a much needed programme within the Western Trust area. Outside of Belfast, our Trust has the highest percentage of cardiovascular deaths under the age of 75 years. This initiative is all about preventive medicine which the Trust took considerable feedback on following our community engagement on the Pathfinder project. It is this type of initiative that emphasises the importance of bringing healthcare right to the heart of the communities that need it most.”

Richard Taylor: A Patient’s Story

On April 17 this year, Richard Taylor, from Derry, went from being an active gym goer to suffering a heart attack and cardiac arrest at the age of just 52.

He says: “I always considered myself fit and healthy and had been a member of a gym for a long time. April 17 started out like any normal gym session for me. However, whilst walking back to my car, I had severe chest pain, pain in my arm and teeth (jaw) that started to get progressively worse.

“Even though I had been first aid trained I didn’t even think it might be my heart. The pain was getting worse but I just managed to get myself home. My wife, Glenda, happened to be at home. I told her how I felt and went into our bathroom as I felt sick and that was the last thing I remember. I know now I had had a heart attack that led to a cardiac arrest and Glenda was performing lifesaving CPR on me for over eight minutes before the ambulance arrived.

“They defibrillated me twice before taking me to Altnagelvin Hospital where the cardiac team worked on me and defibrillated me three more times. I had left the gym at 5.15pm, was home by 5.30pm and, just after 7.15pm, I was on the Cardiac Ward in Altnagelvin with the stent in. I can’t thank the hospital team enough.

“After a few weeks of doing absolutely nothing and frightened to even move in case it happened again, I was telephoned by Cardiac Rehab Nurse Margaret Taggart who wanted to introduce me to the ‘Our Hearts, Our Minds’ programme’. I was in a very vulnerable state and knew that I needed to do something about it; I agreed to meet with the team in Altnagelvin. I had an initial introduction to members of the team, a Specialist Cardiac Nurse, a Dietician, Physiotherapist and a Psychologist and was then given a date to join the ‘Our Hearts, Our Minds’ group at the Foyle Arena.

“The classes lasted approximately two hours every Monday morning for seven weeks. They followed the same format each week, clinical observations and updates on medications etc., followed by some low level physical activity and ended with a specialist talk.

“If you had an issue or needed particular help with something, nothing was a problem for the team - their knowledge was priceless.

“The classes also allowed patients to interact and meet with people who had similar heart related ailments.

“For me, the classes were a hand rail, they allowed me accept it was alright not to be alright. Physically, I looked alright but inside my heart had been broken and it would take time for it to mend. All the team had a unique part to play and all of them were vital for the whole package to work. In the early stages, I found it necessary to speak with the psychologist - I was 52, fairly fit and now this!

“My life had switched off and it was switched on again by the defibrillator. To say that I felt very vulnerable is an understatement.

“‘Our Hearts, Our Minds’ gave me the confidence to grasp my life again, to not give up, and to accept that changes have to be made but at least I am alive.

“This programme helped me deal with the physical side but also the psychological side because it really did come like a bolt from the blue and you do feel a lot of fear afterwards.”