In September 2020 when lying in hospital recovering from a major life threatening heart attack, Niall made a promise to himself that he would do everything in his power never to be back there again.
September is a month of many mixed emotions for 48 year old Niall Nugent. He will celebrate his third wedding anniversary on the 17th of September, and his 49th birthday on the 19th , while the 20th marks the first anniversary of a major life threatening heart attack.
Living in Galway but originally from Tipperary, Niall was enjoying a few days holidays with his wife Teresa in a Killarney hotel when he began to suffer breathlessness, sweating, nausea and feeling like there was a heavy weight on his chest. He was finding it increasingly difficult to breathe and his first thoughts were that he had COVID-19, not once did he think he was having a heart attack.
It was early morning and he didn’t want to disturb his wife who was sleeping, but Niall’s laboured breathing woke Teresa who immediately contacted the hotel reception to call an ambulance.
“I was sitting on the chair when the ambulance came in and they were asking me questions, my left arm was very numb …I was hooked up to the ECG …they said you are having a massive heart attack. That shook me….I remember thinking I wanted to cry but it wouldn’t come out,” he recalled.
Niall was rushed to Cork University Hospital where he had a stent inserted into one of the main arteries in his heart which was completely blocked.
" They said you are having a massive heart attack. That shook me….I remember thinking I wanted to cry but it wouldn’t come out,”
“The next thing I know I am in my hospital bed alive,” Niall said.
In a matter of hours Niall went from suffering a massive heart attack in Killarney to having a lifesaving cardiac intervention in Cork.
“I owe my life to that paramedic crew, they got me from Killarney to Cork on time for me to be saved,” he added.
“I was in bed lucky to be alive and I promised myself I would do whatever was necessary not to be in this position again, and that is when the recovery started for me mentally, physically and psychologically, he said.
After five days in CUH Niall was discharged home. Unfortunately, the consequences of his heart attack meant he was now living with heart failure.
Remembering the promise, he made himself in hospital, Niall signed up to a 12 week programme of cardiac rehabilitation.
Cardiac rehabilitation is a programme of exercise and education that supports and enables people who have suffered a heart attack, stroke or are living with heart failure to return to a full, active and healthy life. Studies have shown that high quality cardiac rehabilitation programmes can reduce deaths from heart disease by approximately 20 per cent.
“ I owe my life to that paramedic crew, they got me from Killarney to Cork on time for me to be saved,”
Niall was making excellent progress when 10 weeks into the programme in December 2020 he suffered a seizure at home and was rushed to hospital.
Further tests revealed that he had suffered a TIA or mini stroke at some stage in the past year. He was fitted with an ICD and put on new medication. This was a devastating set back for Niall and sadly more bad luck was to follow.
While he was in hospital Niall contracted COVID-19. His wife Teresa also developed COVID and was hospitalised in the same ward a few doors down. Teresa and Niall never got to see each other in hospital as they were isolated and forced to spend an incredibly worrying Christmas week together but separated by COVID-19.
“Luckily it was mild but with what everyone was saying about COVID and [the risk to] people with heart conditions getting COVID, it was a very scary time,” he said.
“That was the scariest week of my life to be in a COVID ward when they come in wearing full PPE… the only doctors and nurses I could see were the infectious disease specialists I couldn’t see any cardiologists,” he said.
“Luckily it was mild but with what everyone was saying about COVID and [the risk to] people with heart conditions getting COVID, it was a very scary time,”
As a consequence of his heart attack Niall is now living with living with heart failure. He said that more people needed to know about the life long impact a heart attack can have, and for Niall it has meant that his life has completely changed.
His heart attack has understandably had a massive impact on him both psychologically and physically.
“I am good today ….I am up for the most part…I have accepted that I have heart failure and it’s a chronic illness. It is not going to get better or go away it will probably progressively get worse but with the medication that I am on there is no reason why I can’t live for another good 20 years,” he said
Keeping that promise to himself Niall has worked hard on his recovery exercising and walking regularly with a goal to reach 10,000 steps a day and beyond.
He is also committed to researching and reading all he can about his condition and keeps up to date with all the recent research and new developments in heart failure. He continues to work hard on his recovery and is extremely well informed in all areas of cardiovascular health.
“What I knew about heart attack before this happened and what I know now are a million miles apart… I didn’t know anything about heart attacks …I knew from the movies which is not exactly what it is, but I didn’t know about the consequences,” he said.
" I still have my life. I am still alive and I have to focus on that.”
Niall is also a member of the Irish Heart Foundation’s Heart Support Network and has found the peer support and information he receives from the group to be incredibly helpful in his recovery.
“You can relate to other people…share stories….it’s good to talk to other people ….there are so many different consequences so many different conditions but they all begun with a heart attack …we are all pretty much in the same boat,” he said.
Niall added that he would encourage anyone to support the Irish Heart Foundation which he described as “lifesavers.”
He also advised anyone with a heart condition to try and learn as much as they could about their condition.
“You can help yourself and you can help your doctors help you,” Niall said.
As the first anniversary of his life changing heart attack approaches Niall reflected, “everything changed that day and my life before it was very different to what it is now but ….not all of it has changed for the better, but I am more into exercise now than I ever was, I do aerobics and weights.
“Yes, my life did change on the 20th of September and I can’t do the things I used to do. I haven’t worked in a year, I haven’t driven in a year… but the one word that keeps jumping out at me when I say my whole life changed is life, because it could have been a lot worse…I still have my life. I am still alive and I have to focus on that.”