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*Pauline O’Shea at home in Ardnacrusha. Photograph: John Mangan

Calls for a greater understanding to the employment potential of heart failure patients has been made by one Ardnacrusha woman who has been living with the condition since 2012.

Mother of three Pauline O’ Shea had to forego a successful career in marketing five days after her youngest daughter was born, following a combination of chest pains, sweating and nausea which later led to three heart attacks, going into cardiac arrest and open-heart surgery that saved her life.

Pauline was originally diagnosed with Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD) in the Mater Hospital in Dublin, a condition where a tear forms in a blood vessel in the heart, blocking blood flow. Following this, she was told in the ICU that part of her heart was dead, joining the estimated 1,800 people in Clare labelled as “heart failure” patients.

At the age of 38, with a new-born and two boys of nine and seven years of age, she was devastated, feeling that her “life was turned upside down.” Frightened and shocked “the real work was picking up the pieces of my life. Nobody could guarantee a future for me as my ability to keep going was limited.” The demands of motherhood would often inflate feelings of fatigue and at first, for each 30 mins of output, Pauline required a rest. With different physical abilities, Pauline had to reframe her life going forward.

The Tralee native admonished that there aren’t phenomenal employment opportunities for people with heart failure despite having the same cognitive abilities. “Heart failure isn’t a term that promotes confidence. It’s diminishing. It has a real impact on the mental health of the human being. I no longer had my business,” she stated.

She is frustrated that the label paints a picture of someone that is “about to die” and believes that the naming and perceptions should be reconsidered. Her suggestion is for the term to be called ‘heart inefficiency’, an idea she took from the Heart Inefficiency Clinic at Tallaght University Hospital (TUH). “If a person is viewed through a prism of one label, it diminishes the totality of them. It doesn’t mean they are not capable or valuable in society.”

Pauline Founded SCAD Ireland following her diagnosis of a “condition with no representation” and has since been working with a number of organisations such as the Irish Heart Foundation (IHF) and heart and stroke charity Croí in order to advance awareness and supports for heart failure patients in Clare and Ireland. Believing it to be an area that society is now coming around to, Pauline asserted that any diagnosis is “a journey for the head as much as the heart” and is encouraging people within the county experiencing heart failure to avail of the IHF’s six free counselling sessions.

“If you have experienced a diagnosis, reach out. It is important not to feel alone, isolated and forgotten about. Sometimes you don’t want to burden your family with it but it can become a lonely journey. Whether you are in a remote part of Clare or big town, reach out. It doesn’t have to be lonely,” she concluded.

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