Liam is one of the 90,000 people diagnosed with heart failure in Ireland. He fell ill in 2017 and put his symptoms down to a lack of exercise and travelling long distances to visit his father in hospital.
But when his breathing deteriorated and he began to turn blue, he needed hospital care himself and had to have fluid drained from his heart.
“I was brought to a CATH lab and during that procedure (draining of fluid) it stopped, although with a shot of adrenaline they got me going again,” said the butcher from Dungarvan in Co Waterford.
Ultimately, it turned out I had developed a virus sometime in 2017, a bit like a flu and it got to my heart and damaged it in such a way that it damaged the left ventricle, which is the pumping side of the heart.
Heart failure or heart inefficiency occurs when the heart is not working as well as it should and is not pumping blood around the body efficiently.
Now avid cyclist Liam is encouraging people in a similar situation to engage with new supports being set up by the Irish Heart Foundation throughout the country.
The charity has responded to a sense of isolation felt by people living with heart failure during Covid restrictions by enhancing support it provides with online groups and a podcast presented by retired RTE presenter Michael Lyster, who has experienced heart failure.
Liam says that an IHF support group, which he still attends four years later, offers him vital reassasurance and advice after the “scary diagnosis”.
Patients with heart failure and other cardiac conditions have real fears and a sense of isolation during the current climate of escalating Covid cases
“The supports, which include our new podcast series, Nurse Support Line, new heart failure web page, Heart Support Network, online meetings, daily exercise on Facebook and peer to peer support, will help patients and their families to keep well at home both physically and mentally.
“With almost 10,000 new cases every year, the Foundation’s new support service will help thousands of people to live normal full and active lives with their condition.”
Liam never smoked or drank to excess but in the summer of 2017, began to feel unwell and his condition worsened throughout the year.
“I put it down to my dad being in hospital, and I was up and down to Dublin. I wasn’t getting as much exercise as before and I thought maybe I was just losing my fitness,” he said.
“But as the year went on, I started to develop a chest infection – my breathing was getting laboured and my energy levels were dropping.
“On December 11 I was turning blue but did not feel cold, so I took myself down to the hospital. The doctors knew immediately something was going on.
“Instead of my heart pumping blood around my body, the fluid was starting to build up around the heart and flowing into my lungs.
“I spent eight days in coronary care going into Christmas week and you can imagine, being a butcher, how frustrated I was about that.
Three days before Christmas, I was released from hospital and then straight back into work and I've been working ever since.
The service allows people to access regular information sessions on topics such as medication, lifestyle changes, self-management and diet.
They will be provided by healthcare professionals who work in the area of heart failure, including Norma Caples, National Nurse Lead for the Heart Failure Programme in Ireland.
They will also receive a heart support pack with tips about moving from hospital to home, access the ‘Cardiac Rehab for All’ cardiac rehabilitation programme, a weight monitoring app and peer to peer support from others living with heart failure.
The podcast episodes include topics such as mental health, ICD and pacemaker education are covered by leading healthcare professionals working in heart failure, as well as patients, who are receiving more online support while Level 5 restrictions continue.
“All through Covid I continue to cycle every second night. I have gone from not being able to walk up a short hill a few years ago to going out on the bike now for three and a half hours – doing between 60 and 100kms,” said Liam.
“It is leisurely and I do not push too hard, but I do enjoy pushing myself a little bit at times if I am feeling good. I feel I am one of the lucky ones. At times I get tired, but then everyone gets tired when they work for 10 to 12 hours a day!”
He recommends that people get involved in the support groups being run by Irish Heart Foundation.
“I’m the youngest person there! It is just great to go and speak to somebody. I can give something back as well, for people that might be a bit worried about how they are feeling.
“Heart failure sounds scary but it is not a case that your heart is failing – it is just failing to function properly. By joining the groups you get reassurance.”
Heart failure imposes a considerable cost on Ireland, estimated to be €660million, which includes €158 million to the HSE and the costs of premature deaths, which is approximately €502 million.
Seven per cent of all HSE inpatient bed days are due to heart failure which translates into 231,000 hospital bed days each year.
The support for heart failure patients is provided by the HSE and pharmaceutical companies working in the area.