Gillian Abraham knows how devastating heart attacks can be and is determined to look after her own health. Gillian’s father died suddenly of a heart attack 12 years ago. The mum of four from Lurgan who is a professional photographer explains how much she still misses him:
“The shock and pain of this loss cannot be properly expressed in words and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of him and how special he really was to me.
“My mum also suffered from heart disease. A year before my dad passed away Mum took ill, requiring nearly seven hours of open heart surgery to repair and replace a faulty valve. Seven of the longest, most frightening hours as we waited to hear everything was going to be ok.
“Then in April 2015, my mum had a stroke. Thankfully, because of Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke, I knew the signs so I was able to get my mum to hospital, which probably saved her from it getting worse. Within a few months she was back to her normal self.
“I know that one of the things that can increase your risk of heart disease is having a family history of it. So after I had my third child, I decided to start going to the gym, to get fitter. I thought to myself, “I can’t run!” but, after talking to friends about it, I decided to give it a go.”
Despite never having tried running before, Gillian found the transition extremely easy – and soon realised she’d caught the bug.
“My first official run was in 2013. It was only 5k but I trained like mad for it and then got hooked! I did the Belfast half marathon after that and as soon as I did it, I thought: “Is there any more?”
“Soon I was doing full marathons. Even when I was pregnant with my fourth child I kept running until I was six months and completed 9 races! The doctors said it was totally fine. Trying to keep healthy and still exercise during pregnancy is brilliant.
“I’ve now run more than 830 miles in races, including 12 marathons, 12 half marathons and 28 10k races!
When I set out to get healthy I never in my wildest dreams thought that I could lose 5 stone. My aim was to try and lose a bit of weight and be healthy because of my family’s medical history. I personally feel like I am a changed person. I have so much confidence now. I have dropped from size 18 jeans to size 8, and all in 9 months!
I still can’t believe it. Before I was so quiet and just tried to hide away. Now I’m so confident, happy and I feel and look healthier than I ever have in my life. It also gave me the confidence to become self-employed as a photographer and I now work for myself. Anything is possible if you put your mind to it.
My message to women across Northern Ireland is that heart disease can happen to us too – it is our biggest killer. As women, we spend a lot of time looking after others, and juggling the demands of family, home, work and friends, but we need to find time to look after ourselves too. And if you find that time, you might also find a new you.
Find out more about the cardiac support services that Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke offer.