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Rachel puts her best foot forward to walk 100 miles for charity after having a heart attack at just 24

20 May 2024
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May is National Walking Month and someone who has risen to the challenge of increasing their step count recently is Rachel West from Newtownbutler. Rachel decided to take on the challenge of walking 100 miles to raise vital funds for local health charity, Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke (NICHS). What makes the challenge even more amazing is the fact that one year ago Rachel had a heart attack- at just 24 years old.

Rachel explains; “I was diagnosed as having had a heart attack in April last year. That was the last thing I ever expected to hear, particularly at 24.”

“Before everything happened, I had been working in London as part of my training to become a teacher. It was quite a stressful time and over the weeks leading up to my heart attack I had been experiencing some slightly uncomfortable pains in my chest. I put these down to stress because if I rested for a while, the discomfort would subside, so I wasn’t overly worried at that point. I didn’t think it was anything serious and I certainly didn’t think it had anything to do with my heart.”

“I was home visiting my family for the Easter holidays and my sister and I went shopping one day and this is when I experienced the worst pain I had ever felt. I actually had to stop in my tracks. My sister was walking slightly ahead of me, and the pain was so severe I couldn't alert her to what was happening until it had subsided.”

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“I contacted the GP out of hours service, and they advised I go to A&E. I had various tests and was monitored overnight and the next day I was sent home with some medication and a follow-up appointment for the following week to do a treadmill test. At this stage, the words ‘heart attack’ hadn’t been mentioned.”

Rachel continues: “I went for my treadmill test and the results of that made the doctors decide to keep me in over the weekend for more monitoring. I still wasn’t overly worried as I hadn’t experienced any further pain since the incident when I was shopping.”

“On the Monday I was sent to Altnagelvin Area Hospital where I had a procedure called an Angiography to look at my heart and what the potential issue was. This involved the doctors having to enter through a main artery in my wrist to go up into my heart. The procedure was horrible. I was given some relaxant medication but was fully awake and it was very painful. It is something I would never want to have to go through again.”

“The doctors decided I needed to have a stent placed and that is when they gave me the diagnosis that I had had a heart attack. The news came as a complete and utter shock; I was only in my early twenties. The medical team were also quite shocked because of my age.”

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Rachel’s stent was successfully fitted, and she was then allowed to go home to start her recovery journey. As she explains, the experience had more of a mental impact than a physical one. “The stent procedure didn’t really affect my physically. I experienced more of a mental challenge because of the way my heart attack happened. It was totally different to the stereotypical picture of someone clutching their chest and falling to the ground. I think because my heart attack was so different to that, and I wasn’t expecting to hear the words ‘heart attack’, I couldn’t quite believe that is what had happened. It took me a long time to try to come to terms with everything. Some days I still question whether I have processed that this has happened to me, and I’ve come through it.”

One year on from her heart attack Rachel decided she wanted to do something to try and put her traumatic experience behind her. “I wanted to do something to bring my year of recovery to a close and move on with my life. I was talking to my sister one night and the idea of a 100 miles walking fundraiser for charity came up. It seemed like a good way to try and do something positive after everything I had been through. I did some research and settled on Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke as the beneficiary because of all the great work they do for local people here.”

“The fundraiser was also a way for me to raise heart health awareness amongst others, especially younger people. Everyone is so shocked when they hear I had a heart attack at 24 but if it can happen to me at a young age, it can happen to others. Through sharing my story and doing the fundraiser I wanted to make people aware of the signs and symptoms of a heart attack and tell people to get checked out if there is anything they are experiencing that doesn’t feel quite right. Don’t brush things aside because of your age. Don’t ignore any potential signs and symptoms that something might be wrong because you don’t want it to be too late.”

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Talking about her fundraiser Rachel says; “I walked 100 miles throughout the month of April, through rain, hail, and shine! I did most of it outside but on the days it was really wet and windy I went on my treadmill to make sure I kept my step count up. One day I did 6k on the treadmill so that was a great day!”

“I am overwhelmed at how generous everyone has been and I exceeded my target really quickly which was just brilliant. I originally set my target at £500 but have raised over £1200 and I am delighted to be able to donate so much to Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke.”

Thankfully, Rachel is now in good health and hasn’t experienced any further problems since her stent procedure. She hopes sharing her story will help make others more aware of heart health and the impact stress can have on our wellbeing. “The stress I was feeling prior to my heart attack was leading me to make certain lifestyle choices as coping mechanisms but these were actually having a negative impact on my health. For example, my diet wasn’t as healthy as it could have been, and I wasn’t exercising regularly. Now, I am much more conscious of my lifestyle, and I am eating a healthier diet, keeping on top of my walking and exercise etc. This, coupled with my medication, should help keep me in good health going forward.”

“I am lucky that my heart hasn’t been permanently damaged from the heart attack, but it has still been a difficult time. Being a certain age or at a certain stage in your life doesn’t mean you are immune to something like this happening. I hope sharing my story will help spread awareness and encourage others to take extra care when it comes to their hearts.”

Ali Patterson, Community Fundraiser at NICHS says; “We are very thankful to Rachel for sharing her story and taking on this amazing challenge in support of our charity. The effort and dedication shown by Rachel is nothing short of phenomenal given everything she has been through at such a young age, and we are delighted she has recovered so well.”

“Today, there are as many as 470,000 people living with a chest, heart or stroke condition in Northern Ireland- that’s 1 in 3 of us. Almost 90% of our income comes from public donations so fundraising efforts like Rachel’s are vital in enabling us to continue to support the local community and provide life-changing services for people living with chest, heart and stroke conditions and their families.”

To find out more about the ways you can support Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke visit,