Tracy, a proud native of Waterford, is Irish Heart’s Regional Fundraising Manager, and has happily worked with the organisation for the past nine years. The issue she addresses on a daily basis is one close to her own heart and while the topic can be trying, it’s a brief she remains wholly committed to.
“Sadly, there are still 10,000 people that die from heart disease in Ireland annually, but it’s not all doom and gloom,” she told me.
“There is good news as well: 80 per cent of those can be treated if you’re just aware of your lifestyle programme, get your blood pressure and cholesterol checked and watch what you eat, do a bit of exercise and obviously cut out smoking too if you do smoke, so those are lifestyle changes that we can make to reduce our chance of cardiac arrest.”
Tracy added: “However, there are some things which we cannot help: for example our age, male or female, or if heart disease is hereditary and it’s in your family already, then that’s something you can only do your best to keep under control.”
The importance of CPR, as the first on-site response to someone experiencing cardiac arrest, is being extolled by Irish Heart, as Tracy explained.
“We’re striving to get CPR onto the school curriculum,” she stated. “Now, we already have in place our CPR For Schools Programme where we’re physically going out to the 350-plus secondary schools all around the country and we are, literally, in all of them, teaching their Transition Year teachers CPR and they in turn then teach their students CPR by using a small mannequin (better known as a ‘Mini Anne’), a DVD and a booklet which we send to schools to assist them with that training, and this is all part of an effort to create a new wave of lifesavers in every single community in Ireland.”
She continued: “We already teach about 30,000 people in CPR, but early CPR can double, if not treble the chance of survival, and learning CPR can give you confidence about what you need to do if faced with a collapse, and we know that practically everyone who has done a CPR course at any stage of their lives is 10 times more likely to respond and assist in such an emergency. So if a bystander starts CPR straight away, the person who has collapsed has a 50 per cent chance of survival before the ambulance arrives, which is so important. And the reality is that 70 per cent of people who do suffer sudden cardiac arrest do so at home in front of a loved one or a family member so it’s so important for us all is to understand the chain of survival and the first thing you need to do is to call an ambulance if they’re unresponsive and not aware of their surroundings. You then need to perform 30 hard compressions into the chest and two blows into the mouth and keep repeating that until help arrives.”
In those seconds and minutes following a heart attack, irreparable damage is done to the cardiac muscle, further underlining the significance of an immediate and appropriate effort from a first responder, be they amateur or professional.
Those vital moments are all about limiting further damage and, potentially, adding years to the sufferer’s life in the long term.
“People shouldn’t be afraid of helping,” said Tracy, who lost her own father to a fatal heart attack.
“Get in there, start CPR straight away because help will arrive. If you’re in a rural area, it takes longer for an ambulance to get to you than it will in the city, so we’re very lucky that there are now so many cardiac first responders in our community (as is the case in my native Portlaw, for example), volunteers that are on call if a cardiac arrest happens in their area; the call will go through to whoever is on call for that first responder team, who will arrive on scene with oxygen, a defibrillator and they start CPR, and that’s another great community service. And there’s a sense of security among local residents who have an awareness of that service.”
Irish Heart’s core message means a great deal to Tracy, who had previously worked for the Irish Cancer Society.
“When my father (Michael) passed away nine years from a sudden cardiac arrest, it was a huge blow to our family. Daddy was one of the founders of the Waterford Weightlifting Club; he was extremely healthy, exercised all the time, never smoked but unfortunately in my Dad’s family, the heart history was hereditary – both his father and grandfather had heart disease – and he always kept that in mind, regularly checking his blood pressure and cholesterol, but at the end of the day, he did have heart disease and unfortunately, nine years ago, he passed away from it. That point came and I knew I wanted to do something for the Heart Foundation (as it was then titled) or to do something with them; the fundraising job for the South East came up, I got it and I’m delighted to be working for them.”
Tracy’s father would, no doubt, be very proud of the strides she has taken to improve cardiac health and first responder awarenesss. To describe her as all heart represents a pun that’s fully intended.