Adapting to a full life with heart failure

By June Shannon 13th Jun 2019

I have a fairly full life even though I have had to adapt that life

When retired nurse, Noel Duffin, had a heart attack in 2007 he didn’t think he might also have heart failure. In fact, despite or perhaps because of his nursing background, Noel’s initial response to being told he had heart failure was to ignore it – he didn’t want to know.

Noel’s reaction to his diagnosis of heart failure was understandable. He was 51, he had just had a heart attack, a triple bypass operation and an ICD implanted to stablise an arrhythmia. He was to remain in hospital for five weeks and felt psychologically and physically fragile.

“Initially I just wanted to put something over my head and tell them to go away. Being a nurse and knowing what the pathway can be, that was my initial reaction. But I am the kind of person that would just stop myself and then say let’s get on with it,” Noel said.

And get on with it he did. Now more than a decade on, Noel lives well with heart failure and says that despite the fatigue which often accompanies the condition, he has “a very full life.”

Noel, who is originally from Waterford and now living in Limerick city, said it took him a full six months to come to terms with a diagnosis of heart failure.

" I would say it took me a good six months to finally accept it because I felt so bad when I came out of hospital."

Noel Duffin

“That happened in May 2007. I would say it took me a good six months to finally accept it because I felt so bad when I came out of hospital. After the real roller coaster of the hospital stay, I felt terribly weak. I didn’t think I would live out the year but that was just me being very pessimistic. So, once I got over 6 months, I thought OK, you can live with this and that was what I decided to do, live with the heart failure rather than succumb to it completely,” Noel said.

Noel worked hard at making the best of his heart failure diagnosis. He followed a cardiac rehabilitation programme at University Hospital Limerick which he found very helpful and he has regular check-ups at the heart failure and ICD clinics.

Just over 18 months ago Noel was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation which required cardioversion – a procedure which restores a normal heartbeat – and thankfully the operation was a complete success.

He also takes regular medication.

Today 12 years on Noel says he is “doing very well.”

“My energy levels have improved, my exercise tolerance is better, and I am certainly walking better and not getting breathless so that is very welcome,” he said.

However, Noel has had to adapt his life to his diagnosis.

In the past he was an active hill walker and mountain climber and his expeditions included scaling Mount Kilimanjaro and walking in the Alps. He can no longer participate in these activities which he said he missed however, he still enjoys travelling, trips to the cinema and has a keen interest in politics and news.

“I consider that I have a fairly full life even though I have had to adapt that life. I can’t gad about the place and I will get tired very easily if I overdo it. But I do consider I have a good life,” he said.

“ I consider that I have a fairly full life even though I have had to adapt that life."

Noel Duffin

For Noel the biggest challenge of living with heart failure is the accompanying fatigue which he said was always there “lurking” in the background.

Asked what he would say to someone who has recently been diagnosed with heart failure, he said it would be first of all to listen to, and be guided by, healthcare professionals- the cardiologist, GP and heart failure specialist nurses.

He underlined the importance of people with heart failure getting their flu and pneumonia vaccinations and advised people to listen to their bodies, take their medication regularly, watch their diets, be active but rest when needed and stay interested and involved in life.

“Get involved in things, don’t just sit at home and brood, do your walking, get interested. If you have hobbies develop them even more and keep up with your friends because to have good friends to talk to is very important, “he said.

Finally, Noel said he would also encourage people to participate in heart failure support groups and patient information evenings organised by the Irish Heart Foundation, which he found extremely helpful.

The Irish Heart Foundation is organising a free heart failure public information evening on Thursday the 20th of June in the Woodlands Hotel in Waterford city.

The Waterford event is one of a number of free public information meetings being held across the country as part of the Irish Heart Foundation’s campaign entitled ‘Don’t Ignore the Signs of Heart Failure’,

Supported by Novartis, the Irish Heart Foundation’s campaign aims to raise awareness of the warning signs of heart failure.

To register to attend the Waterford heart failure patient information evening please see here.

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