'I've just had to make adjustments' - Yorkshire woman living with congenital heart disease now volunteering to help others
In her own life too, she’s well-versed in managing difficulties. For the 56-year-old was diagnosed with congenital heart disease as a baby and has had to learn to deal with a range of symptoms including chest pain and extreme tiredness and fatigue.
“My life has been about managing the restrictions of having heart problems,” she says. “I know about managing a long term condition really well…
"I’ve had problems all my life and I get to a point where I have stability for a while but then things change. I know what it’s like for your health to change and to have to manage that.”
After retiring from work two years ago with ill-health, Angela, originally from Morley, near Leeds, has found a new focus and has begun supporting the NHS as a peer leader, as someone with lived experience of heart problems.
She has started volunteering in Wakefield, where she now lives, as part of a new Healthy Hearts Hubs pilot project. The scheme, run in partnership with GP practices, the NHS, and Wakefield Council, sees hubs set up regularly in community venues with the aim of preventing heart disease.
Away from a medical setting, in libraries and community centres, the hubs offer services including blood pressure checks, the opportunity to speak to people who have experienced heart problems and information on making healthier choices.
Coun Maureen Cummings, the Wakefield Council cabinet member overseeing health, says it’s an opportunity to reach more people.
“The hubs provide friendly, personalised support to help people better manage their own heart health and potentially avoid more serious issues,” Coun Cummings explains.
Jo Webster of the Wakefield District Health and Care Partnership agrees. “Cardiovascular disease prevention is a key priority to improve the health outcomes for all our residents living in Wakefield.
"It can save lives, improve quality of life, and reduce hospital readmissions. The hubs aim to reduce mortality and morbidity by helping people understand more about their cardiovascular risk and supporting them to reduce these risks.”
Angela’s heart disease is congenital – present from birth. She was diagnosed at 11-months-old after repeatedly falling unwell with pneumonia.
She has had heart surgery four times, aged nine, ten, 12 and 25, and has since also undergone procedures including ablations, a treatment that aims to correct certain types of abnormal heart rhythms, and the fitting of an implantable pacemaker and defibrillator.
“I’ve just had to make adjustments to anything that requires more physical strength or stamina. I get fatigued really easily now. I don’t have a lot of strength. I wouldn’t walk very far now,” she says.
“Day-to-day activities are just really draining. Even showering, making a meal, anything bending or stretching, I’m just exhausted.
"It’s something I’ve just managed over the years. I take a lot of medication. Everything that’s possible to be done for me clinically is pretty much in place.
"The only other intervention that could really be made is a transplant. But they’ve said stay as well as you can for as long as you can so that’s what I’ve tried to do.”
The council says around 32 per cent of the local population are at risk of heart disease and nearly 30,000 people have been diagnosed with it.
Angela hopes by volunteering at the hubs, she will be a supportive and reassuring presence, able to speak about her experience and signpost people to get further support.
“The hubs that we’ve had so far, from the people I’ve spoken to, they have found the hubs a lot more accessible than a GP practice,” Angela says.
“They’re making a difference to people already. This is about prevention, it’s about education and the more forums there are for that, the better.”
The sessions are set to run on a monthly basis, with people able to drop in or be referred. The next one will take place on Tuesday, November 7, from 2.30pm until 4.30pm at Airedale Library, Castleford.