Two inspirational Northern Ireland women are crowned BHF UK Heart Heroes

Two inspirational Northern Ireland women have won major charity awards for their outstanding efforts in supporting heart disease patients and raising money for life saving heart research.

By Claire Cartmill
Sunday, 3rd October 2021, 6:00 am

Dr Susan Connolly a Consultant Cardiologist in the Western Trust was named Healthcare Hero and Lisa Brown, a heart failure patient from Magherafelt was named Innovative Fundraiser at the British Heart Foundation (BHF) UK Heart Hero Awards 2021.

Dr Connolly leads the Our Hearts Our Minds Programme for cardiovascular health service in the Western Trust. The innovative programme, delivered by a nurse-led multidisciplinary team including dieticians, physiotherapists/exercise professionals and psychologists aims to help patients and their families to reduce their risk of heart attack and stroke.

When the pandemic began in March 2020, despite a higher workload and being given the additional role of discharge coordinator for the Trust, Dr Connolly continued to innovate and ensure patients continued to have access to the programme by quickly transitioning it to a virtual platform.

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Lisa Brown, a heart failure patient from Magherafelt was named Innovative Fundraiser

This included virtual assessments via video and phone as well as virtual group education sessions with other patients to provide that vital peer and clinical support. She led the team in making educational videos for patients to watch the Trust’s YouTube channel and also developed a partnership with Fitbit so all patients were offered Fitbits to help them monitor their physical activity levels.

The team were then able to track them on a dashboard as well as push them personalised notifications through the Fitbit app to help keep them motivated and engaged. Patients were also provided with blood pressure monitors so they could track their blood pressure at home and tape measures to measure their waist circumference. Over 600 patients have benefitted from the virtual programme with the results being equivalent to the previous fully face to face programme.

Lisa Brown won the public vote in the Innovative Fundraiser category which was introduced to acknowledge those who found creative ways of raising money as fundraising events across the UK were postponed and cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Lisa (48) lives with severe heart failure. She was diagnosed with Shone’s Complex, a rare congenital heart disease consisting of multiple left heart obstructive defects. Lisa had her first surgery when she was seven years old. It was Lisa’s last major surgery in 2018, to replace a faulty aortic valve that unfortunately left her fighting for her life.

Dr Susan Connolly a Consultant Cardiologist in the Western Trust was named Healthcare Hero

Lisa spent 200 days in intensive care and now lives with severe heart failure. Although she is now dialysis dependent four times a week and is physically still recuperating she’s incredibly grateful to finally be home rebuilding her life. Lisa owns an online accessories business Brown Bag Boutique and 10 per cent of every purchase goes to British Heart Foundation Northern Ireland (BHF NI). She also recently held a birthday fundraiser for BHF NI and in total has raised almost £3000 for the charity.

Michelle McQuaide a specialist cardiology nurse who works in the Cardiac Assessment hub of Altnagelvin hospital was also a finalist in the Healthcare Hero Award. Michelle is a major driver of the cardiac assessment hub in Altnagelvin hospital which allows patients rapid access to assessment, investigation and treatment.

Dr Susan Connolly said: “I feel very honoured and also humbled to have won the Healthcare Hero Award at the BHF Heart Hero Awards. When the pandemic started we knew we had to act quickly to ensure the Our Hearts Our Minds programme was still there for our patients as such programmes are vital for helping patients recover from the cardiovascular event and also in preventing further heart attacks and strokes in the future.

“Our move to a virtual platform meant we could continue to deliver high quality preventive care but in a way that kept patients and staff safe. It is a testament to the work of my amazing and inspiring team that we have continued to deliver excellent care throughout the pandemic.”

Lisa Brown, explained: “When I heard I had been shortlisted for the BHF Heart Hero Awards, I couldn’t believe it. I never set out to win any awards so I am thrilled to have won the public vote. I want to thank everyone wo voted for me and to all my family and friends for all their incredible support.”

Now in their fourth year, the BHF’s Heart Hero Awards were held virtually on World Heart Day and were presented by Vernon Kay, celebrating health care professionals and members of the public who do so much to help save and improve the lives of those with heart and circulatory diseases. And this year, there was an additional reason to celebrate, as the BHF marks its 60th year.

Fearghal McKinney, Head of BHF Northern Ireland, added: “This year has been another incredibly challenging time for heart and circulatory disease patients and their families, for our research community and for the BHF. And yet despite these challenges, we have been constantly inspired by the amazing support we have received. We are delighted to see two Northern Ireland winners and a Northern Ireland finalist recognised for their amazing efforts with their BHF Heart Hero Awards. Our research is only made possible thanks to our fantastic fundraisers and we cannot thank them enough.”

This year’s Heart Hero Awards, were supported by Laerdal Medical, who are working with the BHF to help save and improve more lives.

Find out more about the BHF Heart Hero Awards 2021 and watch the award ceremony at www.bhf.org.uk/heartheroes

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