Maura Canning, a 52-year-old farmer from East Galway has been successfully managing high blood pressure for the past 10 years.
Living on her family farm next door to her parents, Maura is married with two children, Craig (25) and Tegan (22).
In 2012, Maura was helping out at the Women in Agriculture Conference in Killarney when she decided to visit the Irish Heart Foundation’s Mobile Health Unit for a free heart health check.
“If not for the Irish Heart Foundation doing free health checks that day, I might not be here today,”
The Irish Heart Foundation nurses took Maura’s blood pressure and told her it was sky-high. She was advised to visit her GP who told her to buy a blood pressure monitor so she could regularly check her blood pressure at home. Within a few days of her initial heart health check with the Irish Heart Foundation, Maura was admitted to hospital with very high blood pressure.
Maura had no suspicion that her blood pressure had been dangerously high. She had no symptoms and had been “go-go-go” juggling family life, farmwork, and her positions on various committees in the farming community – “trying to be everything for everybody.” “I was the picture of health and didn’t know I was a walking time-bomb.”
High blood pressure is sometimes known as a silent killer, as many people have no symptoms and no idea they are living with high blood pressure. In hindsight, Maura had been suffering from tiredness, not being able to sleep at night, taking short naps during the day, and what she described as “a flowing sensation in her head” in the weeks leading up to her diagnosis of high blood pressure.
Since being diagnosed with high blood pressure, Maura has been managing the condition with medication and lifestyle changes. Coming so close to having a stroke or heart attack was a wake-up call for Maura to make changes from her lifestyle to prioritise her health.
These changes are “easier said than done” for busy farmers like Maura.
“If you don’t look after yourself, nobody else is going to look after you.”
Now Maura takes time out going to bootcamp classes, meditation classes, and country dancing in her local community. She also makes time to get her nails done once a month and meets friends for coffee, things she never would have made time for ten years ago. “I take time to do stuff for myself whereas I didn’t for years and years.”
“The expectation is you’re supposed to be the go-to for everything. But that doesn’t work. Women need to look after their own health,” says Maura, encouraging other women to look after their heart health, and get their blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly.
Maura makes sure to go for a health check every 6 months, and recently learned that her cholesterol is high, so is managing her diet to keep it within a healthy range.
“Go and get your bloods done. It’s not a huge thing to do, but when it comes back you know what you have to do,”
“Prevention is better than cure,” says Maura, who has learned ways to minimise the stress that contributed to her high blood pressure in the past. “At the time I was minding older people, doing chores at home, working on the farm… Doing a bit of everything but when you piece it all together like a jigsaw, you crash.”
Taking care of her health is now more important than ever to Maura after her 82-year-old father Patrick suffered a heart attack two years ago and had to have five stents in hospital. He has since made a full recovery and is back working on their family farm, thanks to Maura’s quick thinking in recognising the signs and phoning an ambulance. The emergency service call-taker instructed Maura to give her father four aspirin while they waited for the ambulance to arrive. She gave her father four aspirin to chew on, which alongside his physical fitness, proved vital to Patrick’s recovery, according to hospital staff.
As well as being a part of the Her Heart Matters campaign this September, Maura represented Galway in the Farmerette category at the All-Ireland Ploughing Championships in Laois.
The Irish Heart Foundation’s Her Heart Matters campaign highlights that one in four women dies from heart disease and stroke and encourages women to look after their hearts by making small, sustainable lifestyle changes.