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Heart disease kills nearly twice as many women in NI as female related cancers combined warns local charity

18 Sep 2023

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in local women, killing nearly twice as many as breast, cervix, uterus, and ovary cancers combined. The danger heart disease poses to women here has led to leading local health charity Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke (NICHS) launching their Her Heart campaign this month.

The family of Veronica Shaw sadly understand all too well the devastating impact heart related conditions can have on women. Veronica tragically passed away whilst on holiday in Florida in 2018, at the age of just 46 after a cardiac arrest. Veronica’s daughter, Chloe-Amber, had celebrated her 21st birthday just a few days beforehand. Chloe-Amber, and Veronica’s sister, Louise McGreevy, are lending their support to NICHS’s Her Heart campaign in memory of their mum and sister.

“At the appointment her blood pressure was high, but she was told she was probably quite stressed because of the loss of our father, and to go and enjoy her holiday, it would do her the world of good. The fact of our family history, Veronica’s recent health episodes and her high blood pressure were all warning signs of a potential cardiac arrest waiting to happen didn’t seem to be taken into consideration. My sister was reassured after being told by the nurse she was ok- but that potential cardiac arrest did happen, a week into our holiday. The warning signs were there but sadly for Veronica they weren’t acted upon or followed up.”

Chloe-Amber says; “Mum felt a lot of heaviness in her legs that day when we were on holiday, but we were out walking around all day, so we thought nothing of it. She had arm pain as well but at the time I wouldn’t have associated these signs with a cardiac arrest. Why would we have thought that someone of mum’s age, who had just been told by a medical professional she was ok, would be about to have a cardiac arrest?”

Louise adds; “When Veronica collapsed, we tried so desperately to save her. I am CPR trained and my son and I both carried out the CPR. Films and TV programmes often show that if you do CPR everything will be ok, and the person will survive but sadly that isn’t always the case.”

Veronica’s passing was a huge shock and tremendous loss to the family. Chloe-Amber recalls; “It’s so hard to put it into words what life was like for the first while after mum passed away. You’re just in constant shock, you’re living off adrenaline. It doesn’t sink in and you’re just waiting on her to walk through the door.”

“As time went by, I relived that day as if it was happening right in front of me. I felt like I hadn’t spoken to her in so long and I craved that conversion with her. You don’t know what to do and the person you want to ask isn’t here to ask. Your guide, who you normally go to for any struggles in your life, now suddenly isn’t there to help you through the biggest change of your life. Thankfully, I had my aunt to be my guardian.”

Louise and Chloe Veronicas Family Tribute

Louise adds; “I was living life unconsciously. I did what needed to be done each day, but I was in a fog of shock and disbelief and was waiting for Veronica to return and for life to go back to normal.”

“As parents to our children, Veronica and I always lived our lives together. Suddenly it was a question of ‘how do we find a new way of living’? I was no longer just the fun aunt- I had to be a guardian and a parent and try to make the decisions I felt Veronica would want me to make. That was really hard.”

“Our lives really did fall apart. It was like a tornado that ripped through our world. It took us at least 3 years before we started to find ourselves again because we were living so much in that shock of grief.”

Despite their loss, Chloe-Amber and Louise want to do what they can to help raise heart health awareness in Veronica’s memory, especially amongst women. Louise says; “We are backing Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke’s Her Heart campaign because if Veronica had this opportunity she would support it, and we don’t want other families to go through losing a daughter, a sister, a mother unnecessarily in the same way we have.”

Veronica was so beautiful, fresh appearance and full of life that you just would not have expected this to happen to her at just turning 46. Meanwhile, inside, her body was really struggling, and that took us a lot of time to come to terms with. That on the outside she was her vibrant, beautiful self but inside her heart wasn’t doing well. As women, we often take so much care of our outward appearance, when really, we should be looking more at our physical health inside.”

“I have had many friends and family who have suffered from cancer and many types of cancer – people are always very aware of cancer and of course that is vitally important. But when I say to them, ‘Do you know that more women die from heart disease?’ they are completely shocked. The awareness just isn’t there and that’s what we want to try and help change through this campaign.”

Chloe-Amber adds; “Before mum passed away, I never thought that things like feeling sick, being short of breath, or arm, neck, jaw, back or stomach pain could be linked to your heart. I want to put these signs on people’s radars, so they are aware these could be linked to their heart, and they should get professionally checked out. There are so many people out there who don’t know the signs of a potential heart issue but if they, or someone they know, sees the Her Heart campaign, and learns about the risks and signs, that could have a big impact and save a life”

As part of the Her Heart campaign launch, Chloe-Amber and Louise visited Bespoke Hair on Belfast’s Lisburn Road this week. Stewart Lilley, Bespoke Hairdressing’s Director, says; “Bespoke Hair Salons are delighted to be backing NICHS’s Her Heart campaign. It’s our aim to make women feel confident and love how they look on the outside, but this campaign highlights that we may not know exactly what’s happening on the inside. We could be unaware of risks to our health that could eventually lead to serious illness and sadly even the unthinkable – a threat to life.”

“We would urge anyone coming to our salons this autumn to scan the Her Heart QR code on the mirror whilst in the chair. When you’re pampering yourself on the outside, why not have a think about what you’re doing to care for the inside? You will learn more about risk factors, how to look after your own heart health and if you can, please make a donation to support this fantastic cause.”

CHS Bespoke 25

Regina Cox, Community Fundraising Manager at Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke, says; “Veronica’s passing at the age of just 46 is deeply sad. We are extremely grateful to Chloe-Amber and Louise and Bespoke Hairdressing for supporting Her Heart and helping us spread awareness of the issue of women’s heart health. The fact heart disease kills nearly twice as many women in Northern Ireland as female related cancers combined is truly shocking and needs to change.”

“Awareness of women and heart disease remains understudied, underdiagnosed, and under-treated and, worryingly, the majority of women remain oblivious to their risk of heart disease. Our Her Heart campaign aims to raise awareness of the prevalence of heart disease in women and promote prevention and selfcare.”

“Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t realise they are actually having a heart attack. We would urge people to remember the STOP acronym - if you notice yourself or someone else presenting with any of these symptoms, don’t wait, call an ambulance immediately.”

“The STOP acronym stands for:
S – Something’s not right – symptoms can start slowly

T – Tightness or pain in the chest, pain in the arm, neck, or jaw

O – Other symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea, or sweating

P – Phone 999 immediately.”

“As well as raising public awareness we are also launching a range of fundraising activities as part of the Her Heart campaign and are asking people to please get involved and help us raise much-needed funds for our charity. Almost 90% of our income comes from donations so these are vital to us being able to continue our fight against heart related illness here.”

“There are lots of ways people can get involved with Her Heart including joining us at 8am on Monday 25th September in the heart of Belfast City for our Give Women’s Heart Disease The Boot - Camp, taking part in our Facebook Challenges, the Her Heart 5K or Dare A Hearty Cold Dip, or creating their own ‘Go Red!’ fundraiser.”

“Through Her Heart we want to protect the lives and good health of our mums, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, nieces, daughters, cousins, and friends. We want to see a Northern Ireland where the heartbreak of losing a loved one to heart disease too soon is in our past, not our future.”