In 2013 Mark was diagnosed with heart failure and symptoms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD. Mark was only 50 at this point and as a result of the diagnosis he was medically retired from work to begin a new phase of his life a lot earlier than planned.
Up until this point Mark had smoked for much of his life and he had a very physical job which was a big part of his life. He tells us “I was depended upon by my colleagues, loved my job and had never taken a day off work sick before”.
For months Mark was trying to hide his breathlessness from work colleagues but it became apparent that he was struggling with even light activity. He tells us “I very suddenly became unfit for every aspect of my life. After getting tests done in the hospital the doctor asked to see me privately, which I knew was not good news. They told me I had heart failure, and it terrified me.
Mark was medically retired from work in August 2013 and left feeling very low about the dramatic and sudden change to his life.
He enjoyed the camaraderie at work and it has been tough adjusting to manage his illness. He still gets emotional talking about it. Mark tells us “I went from being an important and valued member of a team to being at home full-time and relying on a disability benefit. My wife helped me a lot during this time but I knew I was far too young to be retiring.
“One of the biggest things I missed was the chat in work and the friendships I had built up. I would regularly pass people walking to work and think about how lucky they were still having jobs and good health. It was a depressing time in my life.”
Mark got in touch with Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke after seeing a poster in his GP’s surgery, he hasn’t looked back since – in fact he hasn’t missed a meeting.
“The support groups have been a real eye opener to realise that other people have similar thoughts, feelings and experiences. The simple act of talking about my experiences with other people and hearing that they were in the same boat as me was the most reassuring.
“These groups give me the support and tools to remain positive and manage my illness so it doesn’t manage me.
“I now plan my day and all my journeys so I’m not under pressure. If something used to take me an hour, I now plan two hours and I take my time.
“I went to see a concert in Dublin recently. Before the journey I planned exactly how far I would be walking between the train, the taxi and the stadium so I wouldn’t be rushing.
“I have COPD but I don’t let it hold me back”.
Find out more about the respiratory services that Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke offer.