A home from home for troubled hearts

Tue, Sep 18, 2012, 01:00

Croí now has a heart centre in Galway with accommodation for those in need, writes LORNA SIGGINS

‘NEWFIES” LORRAINE Peter and Frank Delaney were on their first trip to Ireland when they had to pay an unexpected visit to University Hospital Galway (UHG).

The couple, from Mount Pearl, Newfoundland, had taken a bus to the west after spending time in Dublin, Waterford and Kildare. One early morning, several days after arriving, Lorraine began to feel very unwell and thought it was an inflammatory reaction to an allergy.

“We arrived in accident and emergency at 2.30am, and they were setting me up to treat me for that when they discovered that I was having a heart attack,” she recalls.

The couple had already much experience of doctors and hospitals back in Canada, as both had lost their first partners to serious illness when in their early 50s. “But this was the last thing we expected – and we knew no one and were far from home.”

Lorraine was treated successfully in UHG’s cardiac unit, while Frank made several daily trips to and from his hotel. However, he knew they wouldn’t be able to take their return flight home on August 28th as his wife needed time to recuperate.

Unfortunately, the relevant insurance to cover convalescence had expired two days before Lorraine’s hospitalisation.

“If I’d known in time, I’d have bumped it up, but so much was happening,” he says. “My own insurance was no good for Lorraine. One of the nurses mentioned Neil Johnson and Croí House, and next thing, Neil was down with us at the hospital.”

Within hours, Johnson, chief executive of west of Ireland cardiac foundation Croí, had organised their accommodation in one of three apartments attached to a recently constructed heart and stroke centre.

The centre, named Croí House, is the first of its type in the State. Its completion at a cost of €3.7 million is yet another milestone in the 27-year history of Croí, which was originally established to campaign for specialist cardiac services in the west of Ireland based at UHG.

Located within a 10-minute walk of UHG on a site donated by Galway City Council, it was built with private funds. A National Lottery allocation for its fit-out was the sole State grant.

The Newfoundland couple were made to feel so welcome that tears well up in Frank’s eyes at the thought. “Look, here we are together, there’s a chicken in the oven and we’ve people to say hello to,” he says.

“Just like the staff in the UHG, Neil and Jackie Aupiais of Croí couldn’t have done enough for us. We’d have had a lot more stress without this support.”

The apartments, for the purpose of convalescence in a medical setting, are just one element of the Croí centre which is dedicated to prevention of heart disease including education, training, early detection and screening, health and wellbeing, recovery and patient and family support.

On the top floor of the main building is an exercise and fitness centre with staff trained to work with people at risk of or recovering from heart and stroke events. Equipment is minimal because, as Johnson points out, “We don’t have anything here that you can’t also use in exercising at home.”

Training rooms, which are available for use by various groups, are equipped to deliver life-saving courses in cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR), defibrillation, stroke recognition and choking resuscitation.

The centre also has meeting rooms while video-conferencing facilities provide a link to universities, hospitals and training centres around the world.

The three self-contained accommodation units were designed to provide a home from home for families who might need to stay close to the hospital while a relative was undergoing surgery or receiving stroke or coronary care.

Johnson was sure he had thought of everything in the fit-out, only to find himself sourcing baby toys for one of the unit’s first visiting families. A 35-year-old woman who had a heart attack after giving birth was able to stay with her newborn in an apartment – she wouldn’t have been able to have her baby with her in intensive care.

The centre will serve as an “institute” for prevention, rehabilitation, research and education, Johnson points out, while also providing support for the wider community.

Croí is financed entirely through its fundraising campaigns, and the charity has begun to employ a social enterprise model to meet costs in the current challenging climate.

HEART AND STROKE WEEK

Croí is hosting a “heart and stroke week” which runs until this Saturday, September 22nd, and includes a number of free activities.

Members of the public can call in for free blood pressure and pulse checks, body mass index and waist circumference measuring, and talks on various themes ranging from sex after heart disease to quitting smoking for life will also feature.

Galway Olympic sprinter and medical student Paul Hession, who is Croí’s “lifestyle ambassador”, speaks tomorrow about his journey to fitness and international success, while obesity in young children and young people will be discussed on Saturday.

There will be cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) demonstrations for all ages over 16, and yoga classes for people affected by stroke and heart disease. Primary school children are invited to free yoga classes this Friday afternoon.

There is no charge, but booking for some activities is advisable by contacting Croí on (091) 893515.

Full details and timetable on croi.ie

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