You’re never too old to check out the health of your heart. That’s the message from heart and stroke charity, Croí, who are raising awareness of heart-health matters as part of Heart Valve Disease Awareness Week (September 14-20).
And one woman who understands the true importance of this is 92-year-old Hannah O’Sullivan, from Listowel.
Hannah was diagnosed with severe aortic stenosis by consultant cardiologist Dr Samer Arnous in the Bon Secours Hospital, Tralee in January 2020.
Her health deteriorated after two months and she suffered from breathlessness, one of the main symptoms of this condition.
Hannah saw Dr Arnous again in April and was pencilled in for a Transcatheter Aortic Calve Implantation (TAVI) procedure on May 8. Due to complications, the minimally invasive procedure was postponed but was eventually carried out at the end of May.
It was a huge success, and Hannah was discharged from the hospital just a few days later.
Reflecting on how she felt after the surgery, Hannah said: “I feel great. I am so glad I went for the operation. Dr Anous is a lovely man. I would encourage anyone waiting to go for the procedure, it made a huge difference to my life.”
Hannah is back at her home in Listowel, where she lives alone with family support from her seven children, including her daughters – Mary, who is a secondary school teacher in Limerick city and Noreen, who is a teacher living in Navan.
Mary cared for her mom following her procedure and is eager to raise awareness of heart valve disease and the modern, minimally invasive treatments that are available.
While this is a relatively new procedure – the first of its kind was performed in 2002 – it has already greatly improved the lives of many and valves can last up to 20 years.
Mary said her family hasn’t looked back since the procedure.
“Dr Samer was extremely supporting and positive. He treated my mother like a patient rather than a very old woman. He was so pleasant. Before meeting him, my mother did not want to go for surgery, the thought of it was daunting. He encouraged her to do it and we have never looked back. I can’t thank him enough.
“The main message I want everyone to take away from this is to look after your heart. Be pro-active about it. Most importantly, prevention is better than cure,” Mary added.
Irene Gibson, Croí Director of Programmes and Cardiovascular Nurse Specialist, is urging people over the age of 65 years to take the opportunity of International Heart Valve Disease Awareness Week to remember, at least once a year, to ask their doctor to listen to their heart with a stethoscope.
“We know that the outcomes for people who are not treated for heart valve disease are stark. More than half of those with severe aortic stenosis – the most common form of heart valve disease – die within two years of developing symptoms if not treated. We also know that some of the symptoms such as breathlessness, feeling older than our age, tiredness, and weakness, are often ignored, and dismissed as simply age catching up with us.
“Our older generation makes a vital contribution to society and, as highlighted by COVID-19, we need to proactively cherish and protect them.
“Heart valve disease is predominantly a condition of ageing, being most common in older age groups. With more and more people living longer, we need to ensure that they can enjoy healthy longevity. Early diagnosis is key, and it is one of the few heart conditions that has almost curative treatment options through either heart valve repair or replacement,” she added.
Heart valve disease can lead to death within two years of severe onset if not diagnosed and treated.
If you’re over 65-years of age, ask your doctor to listen to your heart with a stethoscope at least once a year.
International Heart Valve Disease Awareness Week is an initiative of the Global Heart Hub, an international alliance of heart patient organisations from around the world.
Further information can be found at www.croi.ie/valveweek.