Between October and December 2021 Sharon Piggott was feeling unwell and constantly tired but like a lot of busy women, she simply explained it away, putting it down to getting older or being stressed. Little did she realise however that she was seriously unwell with heart failure.
Originally from the UK but now living in Co Cork, 59-year-old Sharon was juggling working with caring for her elderly mother who has Alzheimer’s Disease when in October last year she began to feel unwell. She said she was constantly tired, and irritable and felt as if she was coming down with flu.
She contacted her GP a number of times only to be sent for Covid tests all of which came back negative and was prescribed antibiotics and steroids none of which seemed to help.
Just after Christmas, she felt terrible so she contacted her GP again and was asked to visit the surgery. While there after a number of tests including an ECG, she was told to go to Mallow Hospital immediately as her heart rate was sky high and she also had suspected pneumonia.
Sharon was to spend a week in hospital where she was diagnosed with heart failure and atrial fibrillation. While there it was also discovered that she had type 2 diabetes.
She said she genuinely was not aware of how sick she was until one of the doctors at the hospital told her she was minutes away from a stroke or a heart attack.
Prior to her heart event, Sharon said she was living with overweight and had high blood pressure which was well controlled with medication. On discharge from the hospital she was put on a new regimen of medication for her heart condition and diabetes.
" I have an underlying health issue. But you know, life goes on I can still do everything."
Since then Sharon has completely transformed her lifestyle and is feeling so much better. She started exercising despite arthritis in her knee and overhauled her diet which coupled with the diabetes medication has enabled her to lose a substantial amount of weight. She also underwent a cardioversion procedure for her atrial fibrillation which was successful.
“I think I have totally accepted that I have an underlying health issue. But you know, life goes on I can still do everything. I went back to work in May. And I can still do all the things that I was doing, but in actual fact, I now realize that I’m doing them better. I’m better in myself now. And it also brings home to me that there are other people out there who are sicker, more unwell than me, so, you know, get on with it,” Sharon said.
While a diagnosis of heart failure can be frightening it is possible to live well with the condition which is something Sharon said many people including herself were are not aware of.
Sharon who is a member of the Irish Heart Foundation’s Heart Support Network (HSN) described a “light bulb moment” when she was browsing the HSN Facebook page one day.
“A while ago, I was reading through some posts and a lady had put up that it was her 12th anniversary of being diagnosed with heart failure and I thought wow. Oh my god, 12 years. Because I think for me there was definitely a period of time where I was like, how long have I got?”
She said that to see someone else in the same position as herself alive and well 12 years after a heart failure diagnosis was a “light bulb moment.”
“This is not a life sentence of next year or the year after and that was definitely my lightbulb moment. Definitely. And in actual fact, I messaged the lady back. I cannot remember her name and said, ‘you have not only made my day but you have made things so much easier for me.’”
" This is not a life sentence of next year or the year after and that was definitely my lightbulb moment."
According to Sharon, women are not as aware of their heart health as they are of other issues such as breast or cervical cancer and it was important to raise awareness of cardiovascular health among women.
“If you’ve never had anybody that had any heart problems, how would you know? We’re all very familiar with cancer… and women are great now going for mammograms etc.”
She said she would advise all women to listen to their instincts if they are worried about their health and speak up for themselves if they feel they are not being listened to.
“We know our own bodies. And your gut tells you when things are not right…you have to listen to that. And if it’s a case of you are being fobbed off, you have to fight for yourself.”
As her main carer, Sharon regularly advocates and speaks up for her 82-year-old mother but she now realises that she has to start doing it for herself too.
“I have done that. I know I have, but I just didn’t do it for myself,” she said.
Sharon added that women like herself who are caring for elderly parents don’t tend to look after themselves but she was slowly learning to say no more often and put herself first for a change. She also advised women to ask for and accept help.
“If there’s somebody that can and is willing to assist, even if it’s for an hour, just to so that you can go out for a cup of coffee or go and sit in the car or the garden do it,” she said.