Defending and preserving Irish hearts for decades

Defending and preserving Irish hearts for decades
Protecting children’s hearts from junk food marketing is essential, Chai Brady hears

Irish people are now living longer than ever before due to advances in medical science and technology as well as better health education, but this does not come without its challenges.

Over the decades more health problems will arise and need to be tackled quickly as people enter their golden years. A ‘silent killer’ that so often goes unnoticed, as it can have no symptoms, is high blood pressure. It can be treated with lifestyle changes and often medication, but without intervention the situation can deteriorate quickly.

Recognising this, the Irish Heart Foundation are continuing a campaign focused on raising awareness of the dangers of high blood pressure, both through information campaigns, advocacy and heart health checks, particularly in disadvantaged communities.

Speaking to The Irish Catholic, Janis Morrissey, Director of Health Promotion, Information and Training at the Irish Heart Foundation said: “The demand for heart health checks across communities is very strong, and we have a team of nurses who travel the country offering these checks.

“We have identified a lot of high-risk individuals and referred them on to their GP but there are occasions where we need to call an ambulance because somebody’s blood pressure is so high that they’re at immediate risk and it’s an emergency situation. It is a very impactful service to be offering,” she said.

Mrs Morrissey said intervening at a young age is crucial as 80% of heart disease and stroke is preventable but children may not be equipped to understand good health advice or even follow it because of conditions at home. Currently the Irish Heart Foundation are developing a World Health Organisation (WHO) project around ‘health literacy’.

“We do a lot of work, particularly with DEIS [Delivering Equality of opportunity In Schools], with schools in disadvantaged areas to build life skills, educating around heart health. But we take an approach of building skills around understanding health information and how to analyse it and understand it and apply it in your own life as well,” she explained.


Another aspect of the Irish Heart Foundation’s outreach to schools is their CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation) 4 Schools programme which the charity says is now in 86% of secondary schools across the country. This programme provides training in the life-saving skill of CPR, and the aim is to train the “next generation of lifesavers” with the confidence to act in the event of a cardiac emergency, according to Ms Morrissey.

“We know that even by learning CPR once in your life you’re 10 times more likely to respond to an emergency than someone who has never received training. Over 70% of cardiac arrests happen in the home, not in a public place, so the more people who learn CPR the better and we have a big focus on the quality of CPR generally,” she said.

Stroke awareness

The charity also raises awareness of all aspects of cardiovascular disease. Do you know the F.A.S.T. signs of stroke? Facial weakness, Arm weakness, Speech problems, and Time to call 112 or 999 if you see any single one of these signs. Ms Morrissey says: “It’s so important to have those symptoms at the front of the mind because as we say ‘time is brain’. If people see a family member, friend or member of their community with even one of those signs, they must immediately call the emergency services. Effective stroke treatment is hugely time dependent. The faster you act, the more of the person you can save.”

Ms Morrissey added that they are extremely grateful to the Irish public whose donations make up 90% of the charity’s running cost, with 10% coming from the State, saying “we heavily rely on the generosity of the public to do the work that we do”.

Legacy donations are “an absolutely vital source of income” for the foundation. Legacy donations have been key when it comes accelerating the programmes that are in place, as well as new initiatives, for example, one particularly significant gift allowed them invest in protecting children’s hearts from junk food marketing.

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