Meet Pegga de Albreit

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During Summer of 2014, I had a flu like symptoms that went on for a few weeks.

I went to see my family physician and she prescribed me with inhalers for asthma. Weeks went by and the symptoms continued to persist, so I went to a walk-in clinic. The doctor told me that I had fluids in my lungs and that I had bronchitis, so she prescribed me with antibiotics for 10 days. My heart rate and blood pressure were high, but they didn’t investigate further because I was menopausal, I was adjusting to my married life, I was stressed, and I was told to stop drinking too much caffeine.

Weeks and months went by, and I increasingly became more fatigue and coughing a lot. I couldn’t walk very far and I stopped walking my dog. I took naps during the day, I was very forgetful, I couldn’t do my house chores, I couldn’t sleep lying down. Everyday, I felt as if I was drowning and my chest felt heavy. I had to sleep sitting up or propped my head on the couch. I couldn’t eat because my belly was distended.

On the evening of November 29, 2014, I started to have a hard time breathing. I asked my husband to take me to the hospital. A day after my admission and several tests, bloodwork and medical imaging, doctors broke the terrible news I never wanted to hear that I have cardiomyopathy, atrial fibrillation, heart failure and pneumonia.

Since then, I have several other health issues and surgeries. I am unable to do activities I used to enjoy. My life has changed forever. I was diagnosed with heart failure at 40 years old. I never smoked, abused alcohol or did drugs. I always ate very healthy, tried to live a very active lifestyle, and am within my ideal body weight. I want to spread awareness to women my age to listen to their bodies and be vigilant on unusual symptoms especially irregular heart beats.

Meet Sunny Tutt

Sunny was born in Surrey, British Columbia, a perfectly healthy happy boy who enjoyed pewee football. Due to a genetic mutation, Sunny was diagnosed with Dilated Cardiomyopathy at the age of 18; shortly after beginning his term at Simon Fraser University in 2003.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy is a disease where the heart muscle is greatly enlarged and completely loses efficiency in pumping blood throughout the body; this affects functioning of the lungs, kidneys, liver and rest of the body in general. Sunny has had to defer his studies, personal goals and projects, due to being sidelined by severe and unpredictable congested Heart failure. As the disease progressed, symptoms and side effects worsened along with his quality of life. St. Paul’s Hospital of Vancouver, BC provided its best care and prolonged Sunny’s life as much as possible. Finally in 2013, after almost a complete heart failure Sunny was given an LVAD, which is an artificial heart pump to bridge the gap between complete heart failure and need/availability for a new organ.

In July 2014, Sunny received the call he had been waiting for almost 12 years. Sunny underwent a successful heart transplant from a matching donor giving him a second chance at life. It took many years, many near death experiences and teams of medical professionals and family care to get to this point. If it weren’t for the kind soul who signed up to be an organ donor, who knows where Sunny would be today. Sunny wants to put all of his positive energy into the Jivana organization to give something back in a meaningful way and appreciate his good health and functioning body by making good use of it to honour his donor - by improving his health, his mind, his relationships, get married, and travel the world. 

The first National Heart Failure Awareness Week is happening this week

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There are more than 600,000 people living with heart failure in Canada. However, more than one in four people do not know what this chronic illness is, and almost half think that it can be cured, according to research conducted by the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

There is no cure for heart failure at present. Despite this devastating fact, heart failure diagnosis is on the rise — there has been a 25% increase in heart failure hospitalizations in the last decade, especially in adults between 30 to 39 years of age. Heart failure patients need advocates, and as the first and only patient-led heart failure charitable organization in Canada, we’re working to engage patients, families, and caregivers.

Now, from May 6 to 12, we have the sincere pleasure of being part of Canada’s first National Heart Failure Awareness Week with the Canadian Heart Failure Society (CHFS), Canadian Cardiovascular Society, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, and Quebec Heart Failure Society.

CHFS is taking steps to engage health care providers to raise awareness about new and current standards of practice, in order to improve care for patients living with heart failure. The goal of the inaugural National Heart Failure Awareness Week is to promote heart failure awareness among health care professionals, patients, and their families.

Developing heart failure

So, how does an individual develop heart failure? CHFS explains that the most common causes are coronary artery disease and high blood pressure.

Other causes may include diabetes, congenital heart conditions, viral infections, and chemotherapy, excessive use of alcohol or drugs, heart valves that are not working properly, arrhythmia, pregnancy, other conditions such as thyroid disease, infection, and heart muscle disease of unknown causes.

Working with your healthcare team can help you discover if you are at risk of heart failure and take precautions to prevent this condition. For example, if you have high blood pressure, make sure it is well controlled.

Living with the illness

Although heart failure cannot be cured, you can live a full life when you effectively manage the illness. There are treatment options available that can help patients feel better and live longer. Together with your healthcare provider and family members, you can build a plan that supports your needs and goals.

Not all heart failure patients will experience the same symptoms. Learning about your symptoms and how you can recognize them is key. Your healthcare team can help you build an action plan, so you know what to do when you experience a change in your symptoms.

Most of all, remember to be patient with yourself as learning to live with heart failure takes time. Share your feelings and talk about your concerns with your healthcare team. Talking through your experience in support groups can help relieve some of the stress, pressure, and anxiety, linked with managing the illness.

How we’re helping heart failure patients

At the HeartLife Foundation, we’re working to raise awareness of heart failure and taking action for patient care while building a local, regional, and national, network of heart failure advocates. Our president, Dr. Jillianne Code, along with our co-founder and vice president, Marc Bains, collaborate with stakeholders to ensure patient access to the latest innovative therapies.

This includes sitting on panels, committees, and boards, to provide patient perspective and contribute from a foundational level. We advocate at government level, in meetings with MLAs, as well as writing letters to the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health (CADTH) and PDCI Market Access to support specific medications.

The HeartLife Foundation mentors, supports, and guides, patients, families, and caregivers, in times of need and operate a closed Facebook support group. Additionally, we educate and empower patients online to effectively self-manage their illness and share information detailing the latest research, trends, and tips, on our social media channels.

For further resources and support, visit the CHFS, the Canadian Cardiovascular Society, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, and the Quebec Heart Failure Society.

IF YOU’RE LIVING WITH HEART FAILURE, OR SOMEONE YOU LOVE HAS THIS CHRONIC ILLNESS, CLICK HERE TO VISIT OUR CLOSED FACEBOOK SUPPORT GROUP AND JOIN THE CONVERSATION.

Meet Marc Bains

Before I start, I want to take this opportunity to thank my donor and donor family. I am so grateful for the gift I was given.  I was diagnosed with heart failure 10 years ago when I was 23. I know what you're thinking: I haven't aged a bit. The last 10 years have been somewhat of an adventure. Throughout my journey, there were ups and there were downs.

During the ups, I was able to work, travel, exercise and live a good quality of life. During the downs, there were periods where my family and friends thought they lost me. The worst of which came in 2014. I was in the middle of playing squash with two of my best friends and I had an “incident”. I required CPR for 8-9 minutes, was in an induced coma for 8 days and CCU for 2 weeks. That being said, I always seemed to bounce back.

Needless to say, heart failure and the ‘what ifs’ were always on the back of my mind. I worried about having events at the gym, at dinner, at weddings. Prior to my heart transplant, I became known as the wedding crasher… literally! With all that to say, heart failure was a blessing in disguise. I’ve been able to meet some amazing friends and colleagues, with the opportunity to get involved in the heart failure community. Alongside Jillianne Code and Sean Virani – I was able to co-found Canada’s first HF focussed patient advocacy group, Heartlife Foundation.

I knew at some point in my journey I’d require a transplant. For me, it came in August of last year. I was officially listed. I remember the moment Dr. Davis came into my room at St. Paul’s Hospital and gave me the news. It was surreal, but I was ready. I knew this was the only option. And I wasn't planning on arguing with Dr. Davis.

Fast-forward to June 6 at 10:30 am, I get a call from Wynne. We think we have a heart. Me being me, I ask if it’s okay if I go home and shower and change. Get a couple of things done for work.  So many thoughts were running through my head.

“Is this the one? I have to call my wife. Am I ready for this?”

I make it to St. Paul’s at around 11:30 am. The team is ready for me. Everyone is smiling, extremely welcoming, and so excited. Surprisingly, I was pretty calm. Or at least I thought I was. Then I waited, and waited, and waited. The nerves started to kick in.

Sometime in the afternoon, Dr. Cheung came in to say hi. He was beaming – and ready to go. He said, “I’m going home to take a nap and be back in a few hours to do this.” Not a bad idea. His confidence and friendly demeanour put me at ease. Four hours later, I went into the operating room with at 11:30pm, and my life was changed forever. My wife always said I my old heart was large because I had a lot of love to give. Now that my new heart is smaller, I tell her that the love is just focused.

Currently, I am 2 months and 2 days from the day of the transplant. I’m excited for the next stage of my life with my new beautiful and powerful heart. I look forward to spending time with family and friends, travelling with jessica, building heartlife alongside Jillianne, and of course dancing at weddings without worrying!

I wouldn't be here if it weren’t for a lot of people.

First and foremost: to my family, my friends, my wife Jessica. You've been amazing; thank you for your continuous support, care and patience. My fellow transplant recipients everywhere: Jillianne, Sunny, you are inspirations. Thank for your guidance and answering my random questions at all hours!

To the St. Pauls Care team and the post-transplant team: such amazing work you do. Your passion and commitment to patient care is truly something special. To Dr. Virani and the rest of my team: thanks for putting up with me the last 10 years; your guidance has been integral for my success.

To Dr. Cheung, I’ve had a thank you card sitting on my desk for weeks. I can’t express in words how grateful I am for your commitment to your field and your patients. Jessica told me that Dr. Cheung came into the surgical ICU to check in on his patients that just had transplants. She then went on to tell me it was his day off and his birthday. This is a testament to the level of care that’s provided to patients.

To BC Transplant, I am beyond grateful for your dedication to saving lives and offering hope to families. The work you do for British Columbians is remarkable.

Once again, to my donor and donor family – thank you for the gift you have given my family and I. You have given me a second chance to live a full life. I will do everything I can to live a life that I hope will make you proud.

And finally, I would like to encourage anyone who reads this to become an organ donor. Please head to the BC transplant website. It’s easy, its fast and most importantly – you could save a life.

Calm your mind: 5 therapeutic ways to cope with heart failure

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Heart failure is a chronic condition, and after diagnosis, it’s something that most people live with for the rest of their lives. It can affect anyone, at any age, and at present, more than half a million Canadians have heart failure, as reported by the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research.

There are several different ways that heart failure can be treated. The Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research explains that these include lifestyle changes (like fluid and salt restriction), medications, and other specialized devices. You might experience long periods during which your heart failure symptoms remain stable. Despite this, there are often times when symptoms worsen, typically from excess fluid in the body.

In our last blog post, we discussed the link between heart failure and mental health. We looked at how it’s common to develop anxiety or depression as a result of the unpredictable symptoms of heart failure. As each individual case of heart failure is unique, it’s important to find the method of support that works for you. The Heart and Stroke Foundation makes an extremely important point in saying that, “asking for help is not a sign of weakness — it is a sign of courage.”

Here’s a look at five different types of therapeutic aids that could help improve how you live with heart failure.

Meditation

Meditation is a fantastic tool to relax the mind, even if it’s just for a couple of minutes each day while you’re at home. Research highlighted by Forbes in 2017 indicates that we spend about 47% of our waking moments thinking about something other than what we are doing in that moment. This constant mind wandering can lead to unnecessary stress and anxiety.

According to the American Heart Association, meditation may do more than relax the mind. “Based on existing evidence, experts agreed that meditation may promote heart health and reduce cardiovascular risk.” In fact, meditation may help lower blood pressure, and reduce the risk of mortality from chronic heart disease. As well as this, studies have also linked “meditation to healthier arteries and improved blood flow to the heart,” according to CardioSmart, American College of Cardiology.

Exercise

Adding regular exercise to your routine comes with benefits for both your mind and body. When you’re exercising, your body releases endorphin chemicals which interact with the receptors in your brain that reduce your perception of pain. These same endorphins trigger a positive feeling in the body, as reported by WebMD.

You can start out slowly by walking down your driveway, around your neighbourhood, or at the mall. Going swimming, biking, or doing yoga, are also great ways to boost your mood, stay active, and protect your heart. Regular exercise can help lower your blood pressure and even help to extend your life expectancy. Remember to take breaks, rest, and hydrate, when you need to. Most importantly, listen to your body and what it’s telling you.

Music therapy

Music is often said to be good for the soul; it has the power to make you laugh, cry, or calm you down. If you’re not familiar with music therapy, it’s the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individual goals within a therapeutic relationship between you and a credited, music therapy professional.

“As researchers have turned their attention to the effects of music on the cardiovascular system, they have found that listening to music can lower blood pressure, slow the heart rate, and lessen anxiety, in people hospitalized for heart ailments,” according to Harvard Health. It can also help ease pain and distress after cardiac surgery, and in otherwise healthy people, it can lower blood pressure and ease stress.

Today, music therapy is commonly used for people learning to cope with heart failure as it can alleviate stress, provide a pleasant coping strategy, and impart a feeling of control. You could work with a music therapist or try working on some music therapy at home yourself. To do this, Harvard Health recommends finding music that makes you feel good and then sitting and listening to it for 20 minutes or longer.

Counselling

It’s normal to experience feelings of anger, frustration, sadness, anxiety, or depression, when you’re living with heart failure. Oftentimes, patients can feel as though their illness is a burden upon those closest to them. Seeing an expert, registered therapist, can help you talk through your concerns without fear of judgement or resentment.

If you have trouble dealing with heart failure or your treatments, if you are afraid of dying and it’s disturbing your quality of life, or if you’re feeling depressed or anxious, the Heart and Stroke Foundation suggests talking to your doctor and seeking out the best-suited psychological aid.

Cardiac rehabilitation

If you are struggling to manage your heart failure symptoms, or if you are recovering from a heart attack, your doctor might recommend cardiac rehabilitation. It’s a personalized program that can help you regain your strength, prevent your condition from worsening, and reduce your risk of future heart problems.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends talking to your doctor about how to find a program in your area or contact your nearest public health department. The Canadian Association of Cardiac Rehabilitation also has a cardiac rehabilitation program directory to help you find a program in your community.

IF YOU’RE LIVING WITH HEART FAILURE, OR SOMEONE YOU LOVE HAS THIS CHRONIC ILLNESS, CLICK HERE TO VISIT OUR CLOSED FACEBOOK SUPPORT GROUP AND JOIN THE CONVERSATION.

The link between heart failure and mental health

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Upon first consideration, you may think that heart health and mental health have no connection. However, your mental health can affect your heart, and your heart health can, too, affect your mental wellbeing.

An article published by Harvard Health in 2018 reported that individuals living with depression or anxiety are more prone to developing cardiovascular disease. Factors known to contribute to a higher risk of heart disease, including an unhealthy diet, a lack of exercise, and smoking, are also common in people with poor mental health.

Cardiovascular disease can often result in congestive heart failure, and it’s estimated that many people do not yet know that they are suffering from this illness, according to the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research. At present, over one million Canadians are affected by heart failure, with 50,000 people being newly diagnosed each year.

“Mental health disorders and cardiovascular problems might not just co-occur in adulthood. Instead, people may be vulnerable to both conditions over a lifetime because of their early exposures,” Dr. Jill Goldstein, a professor of psychiatry and medicine at Harvard Medical School, told Harvard Health. Living with depression or anxiety has an impact on heart failure, and it can affect how you manage your illness.

Depression

Depression is a constant feeling of dejection and loss that stops you doing your normal activities. The Heart and Stroke Foundation states that the two main signs of depression are a low, sad mood, and/or loss of enjoyment or interest, on most days for at least two weeks. Everyone feels depression differently — some patients may experience trouble sleeping or a general feeling of tiredness and low energy, but in all cases, it’s important to recognize it and treat depression.

Many forms of poor mental health can affect the heart, including depression. An article for The Washington Post by Dr. Nathaniel P. Morris, resident physician in psychiatry at the Stanford University School of Medicine, states that the U.S National Center for Biotechnology Information has discovered that between 17 and 44% of patients with coronary artery disease also have major depression. “As many as 40% of patients undergoing coronary artery bypass surgery suffer from depression.”

When patients are sick and under stressful circumstances, it can foster depressive symptoms. “But depression itself is also a risk factor for developing heart disease. Researchers aren’t sure why, but something about being depressed — possibly a mix of factors including inflammatory changes and behaviour changes — appears to increase the risk of heart disease,” Dr. Nathaniel P. Morris reports.

Anxiety

Anxiety is one of our most common emotional experiences and it's the normal, healthy reaction to a threat. The Heart and Stroke Foundation explains that, when you become nervous or stressed, part of the anxiety response is to speed up the heart. “Most of the time this is healthy and keeps us safe. However, anxiety can get to the point where it isn’t healthy. It can become an anxiety disorder that damages the quality of people’s lives, keeping them from living a normal life, and it needs to be treated.”

This could be in the form of generalized anxiety disorder, when a person believes there is danger in almost any situation and develops feelings of anxiety about most things in life, such as family life and work, or a panic disorder, when someone has recurring panic attacks that start suddenly and reach a peak within a few minutes. PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and phobias can also cause feelings of anxiety to rise.

It is common for individuals to develop anxiety or depression when living with heart failure as the illness can trigger stress when symptoms worsen.

Support for heart failure patients

Although there is currently no cure for heart failure, many patients can improve how they live with the illness by making lifestyle changes such as eating heart-healthy foods, learning to reduce stress, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and quitting smoking. Medications and medical devices can also help manage the symptoms of heart failure, as reported by the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Due to the stigma often associated with mental illness, many people avoid or delay seeking treatment. However, Health Canada advises that if you are experiencing signs of mental illness, it’s important that you seek help as soon as possible. If a loved one, friend, or colleague close to you is showing signs of poor mental health, talk to them about getting help.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to your family doctor, a psychologist, mental health nurse, counsellor, or social worker, to ask for help. There are also online support and resource options available from the BC’s Heart Failure Network and of course our closed HeartLife Foundation Facebook Support Group.

Talking about your feelings of sadness, anger, frustration, and even excitement, can help lower feelings of anxiety. Remember to care for yourself, be proud of your strengths, and accept your limits — without blame or criticism.

IF YOU’RE LIVING WITH HEART FAILURE, OR SOMEONE YOU LOVE HAS THIS CHRONIC ILLNESS, CLICK HERE TO VISIT OUR CLOSED FACEBOOK SUPPORT GROUP AND JOIN THE CONVERSATION.

TEC4Home: Improving self-care management for heart failure patients

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As the evolution of Canada’s healthcare system continues, an increasing number of Canadians are surviving heart attacks and other acute cardiac conditions, consequently increasing their susceptibility to developing chronic heart failure, as reported by the Heart and Stroke Foundation. At present, there is no cure for the illness, and symptoms can be unpredictable, resulting in frequent visits to the hospital emergency department (ED) for many patients.  

The Heart and Stroke Foundation highlights the staggering statistics; one in five heart failure patients will be readmitted to the hospital within one month of discharge, and 40% will be readmitted within four months. So, how can a patient’s quality of life be improved?

 

To help reduce unnecessary ED visits, the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of British Columbia (UBC) began a randomized controlled trial of home health monitoring (HHM) for heart failure patients: TEC4Home Heart Failure. This four-year initiative, funded by the Canadian Institute of Health Research, the Michael Smith Foundation for Heath Research, the BC Ministry of Health and industry partner TELUS Health, aims to demonstrate the application of technology in Heart Failure patient remote monitoring. TEC4Home is one of many HHM projects across the province that is looking at monitoring heart failure patients. Other HHM projects have included programs around COPD and Diabetes. HHM is currently active across five different health authorities in British Columbia.

 

Now in phase two, a randomized controlled trial, TEC4Home is recruiting patients from 20 hospital sites across Fraser Health, Interior Health, Providence Healthcare, and Vancouver Coastal Health. Over a 15-month period, the target number of patient participants is 900, which will be split into two groups of 450 — a control group and an intervention group. 

Here at the HeartLife Foundation, we were excited to play a role in recruiting patients for the TEC4Home Patient Advisory Committee (PAC). The PAC is comprised of heart failure patients from across BC. This committee provides feedback and guidance to the research team on the patient experience and patient educational materials. We are also working with the research team on a presentation to be given at the upcoming e-Health Conference in May 2019, on the role of patients in research. 

How TEC4Home works

The TEC4Home study focuses on the role of home health monitoring in the transition of heart failure patient care from the hospital to the home. Participating patients are given a home health monitoring kit by TELUS Health, which includes a tablet, weight scale, blood pressure cuff, and pulse oximeter to collect biometric measurements daily for 60 days post-hospital discharge. By tracking blood oxygen levels, weight fluctuations, pulse, and blood pressure, patients are educated on the importance of symptom awareness for illness self-management. 

Additionally, patients are prompted to answer a series of daily symptomatic questions, recording their answers on the tablet provided. The daily results are reviewed remotely by a monitoring clinician who calls each patient to check-in, prioritizing patients exhibiting abnormal symptoms. Under this care model patients have direct daily clinical input on their condition and can avoid unnecessary readmissions to the ER or other hospitalizations.

The results for phase one, a pilot study involving consecutive patients with Heart Failure from three hospitals including Vancouver General Hospital, St. Paul’s Hospital and Kelowna General Hospital, suggested a “59% reduction for heart failure re-admission, a 44% drop in ER re-visits, a 44% reduction in cost per patient, and 100% improvement in patient self-reported quality of life.” The current 20-community randomized controlled trial will hopefully validate these beneficial effects on a larger scale.

Cardiac patient and participant in the TEC4Home trial, Joy Gaze, describes the home health management program as somebody else looking after her, “it’s like a guardian angel,” she says.

 

IF YOU’RE LIVING WITH HEART FAILURE, OR SOMEONE YOU LOVE HAS THIS CHRONIC ILLNESS, CLICK HERE TO VISIT OUR CLOSED FACEBOOK SUPPORT GROUP AND JOIN THE CONVERSATION.

Cardiac device implants in Canada: Are they worth the risk?

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Heart failure is the most rapidly rising cardiovascular disease in the country and 1.4 million Canadians are admitted to hospital with the illness each year, as reported by the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research

There is currently no cure for heart failure, however, individual treatment plans and implantable cardiac devices such as pacemakers and cardioverter defibrillators (ICD), are being used to help improve patient quality of life. 

The Heart and Stroke Foundation details how a pacemaker is implanted during a surgical procedure, to treat abnormal heart rates or rhythms (arrhythmia) if a patient has not responded to medication. Meanwhile, an ICD is implanted to regulate irregular heart rhythms and transmits electrical signals to and from the heart muscle. 

“Patients with implanted heart devices are seen regularly, so that information can be retrieved from the device and health professionals can adjust the device to ensure it is working optimally,” as stated in an article on Remote Monitoring of Cardiac Devices, published by the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health

Poorly tested implants

When patients have a device implanted, followed by regular checks, they should be able to live a normal, healthy life, but that’s not always the case. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) recently released the first-ever global examination of the medical device industry and its regulators, revealing how health authorities around the world failed to protect millions of people from poorly tested implants. 

The Implant Files investigation has, according to CBC News, influenced a growing number of countries to say that they will “better track medical implants and warn patients faster by creating or expanding medical device registries.” After 30 years of failed proposals in Canada, Ottawa appears to be warming up to the idea of a registry. However, Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor wants to make sure that the information collected is useful to Canadians.

Of the 10 devices which were tied to the most reports of death from 2008 to 2018, CBC News reports that 62 were caused by automated external defibrillators, 93 by ICD, 59 (pulse generator) pacemakers, 51 (lead) pacemakers, 82 tissue heart valves, and 31 mechanical heart pumps (VAD). 

Lobbying for a registry 

For more than 10 years, the Canadian Cardiovascular Society (CCS) has been lobbying for a registry. CBC News explains how the CCS created its own reporting system by keeping in contact with manufacturers. They also have expert committee review advisories, issue guidelines for surgeons, and survey hospitals about failure rates nationwide.

Chief executive officer of the CCS, Carolyn Pullen, told CBC News that the “transparency, accountability, and really important communication mechanism is a big gap in our health system.” The CCS reportedly contacted a senior official at Health Canada to offer input and expertise, however they received little interest, which the society said is “alarming.” 


IF YOU’RE LIVING WITH HEART FAILURE, OR SOMEONE YOU LOVE HAS THIS CHRONIC ILLNESS, CLICK HERE TO VISIT OUR CLOSED FACEBOOK SUPPORT GROUP AND JOIN THE CONVERSATION.

Navigating the holidays with heart failure: What you need to know

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The holiday season brings many opportunities to catch up with friends and family, to celebrate the completion of a successful year, and enjoy delicious food. It also increases the need to take time out to relax. 

When your regular routine is disrupted with a full calendar of activities and events such as family get-togethers, decorating, shopping, and meal prepping, it’s no surprise that the festive season can make one feel overwhelmed and stressed. In turn, these stresses can affect those living with heart failure. 

Here in Canada, the cold weather brings higher risk for heart failure patients as it can lead to increased blood pressure, which in turn raises your risk of stroke, as reported by the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Despite this, maintaining healthy lifestyle habits can help you navigate the festive season as stress-free as possible. 

Devise a plan to manage your energy

Heart failure affects each patient differently, so to help navigate the holidays, plan your time in advance to best manage your energy. This could mean visiting friends and family for one hour, scheduling in a rest break, and then returning for dinner or another visit. It’s a compromise that can help you preserve energy for upcoming social events during the holidays. 

Continue to exercise

Staying indoors for long periods of time can make anyone feel lethargic. Exercising helps keep your heart healthy and boosts feel-good endorphins that help you manage stress. Find a way that works for you whether it’s taking the dog for a walk after dinner, going swimming at your local community centre, doing a yoga class, or taking to the slopes for winter skiing. The only bad workout is the one that didn’t happen. Start slow and build up, even 10 minutes a day can make a difference.

Change gift and cooking expectations 

Thinking about the friends and family you have yet to visit and the gifts you need to buy can make you feel stressed. Simplify your approach by lowering your expectations. Buy gifts online, many companies even gift wrap and deliver for you, or organize a gift exchange with your family so that there’s less pressure for everyone.Going out for dinner or splitting cooking tasks with your guests gives you more time to rest. Freeze leftovers for easy meals when you are recovering from a gathering. Consult our guide on how to eat healthy with heart failure for more information. 

Stay hydrated 

Turning your heating up high or lighting the fire naturally increases the temperatures in your home to a level that you’re not typically used to. This can increase your body heat which is why it’s important to stay hydrated throughout the day by drinking water. Decrease your intake or avoid consuming caffeinated drinks like soda and coffee, drink water instead. 

Make sleep a priority 

Visits to friends and relatives often take longer than anticipated, and they can result in increased tiredness. Make sure to get enough sleep, even if you get home late. Plan a quiet, later start to the next day. The Heart and Stroke Foundation explains how “shortchanging yourself on sleep can leave you feeling cranky, raise blood pressure levels, and even lead to overeating.” 

Be present in each moment 

Oftentimes, the holiday season passes faster than you could have anticipated. Being present in each moment and mindful of how your body is reacting to what’s happening, allows you to better understand how you’re feeling. Moreover, it can help you improve the way in which you take care of yourself and appreciate the special moments with your loved ones. 

Say “no” when you need to 

Friends and family know you don’t have superhero powers so don’t be afraid to pass on events if you feel anything is too much. Focus on how you’re feeling and listen to your body when it feels stressed or needs rest. If you’re feeling lonely or isolated, reach out to friends or family for support — don’t be afraid to ask for help. 

We hope you have a wonderful, safe holiday season, and we wish you good health and happiness for 2019. 

IF YOU’RE LIVING WITH HEART FAILURE, OR SOMEONE YOU LOVE HAS THIS CHRONIC ILLNESS, CLICK HERE TO VISIT OUR CLOSED FACEBOOK SUPPORT GROUP AND JOIN THE CONVERSATION. 

7 Ways to prepare for emergency situations with heart failure

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It’s estimated that one million Canadians are living with heart failure, and many do not yet know that they’re suffering from this chronic illness, according to the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research

The Heart and Stroke Foundation reports that "heart failure is on the rise as more people are surviving heart attacks and other acute heart conditions." There is currently no cure for this condition. However, when heart failure is diagnosed early, patients can live a full life by making changes to their lifestyle and working with their medical team to develop and follow a treatment plan that is best for them. 

On a daily basis, people living with heart failure need to monitor their weight, fluid intake, diet, and activity. In addition, it’s important to watch for signs of swelling in your feet, legs, ankles and stomach. All heart failure patients should be familiar with the Heart Failure Zones checklist published by the Heart and Stroke Foundation. This tool will help you to identify symptoms which require medical attention.

It’s incredibly important that you’re prepared for emergency situations when you have heart failure. We’ve compiled a list to help you get started. 

Know the warning signs 

Men and women can experience different signs of emergency with the heart. If you start to feel pressure or heaviness in your chest, notice that you are sweating more than usual, that you have shortness of breath or feel light-headed, call your medical professional or 9-1-1 immediately. Refer to the Heart Failure Zones for a complete list of symptoms in the yellow, caution zone and the red, danger zone.

Always carry your smartphone with you 

Keeping your smartphone in your pocket or your bag at all times, means that you can easily access it in an emergency situation. Add your family, friends, caregiver, and your doctor to your speed dial to expedite making contact with them. 

Make a list of your medications 

If you experience an emergency, those around you may not know the medications you’re currently taking or those that you're allergic to. Write down a list detailing this information with your emergency contacts listed below it and keep copies in your wallet, car, and at home.

Give instructions to your family and friends 

Explain all heart failure warning signs to your family and friends, and what they can do if you experience these signs. You could also encourage those close to you to take a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) class which will help them provide you with assistance in the event of an emergency, before an ambulance arrives.

Consider creating a medical “go bag” 

Harvard Health recommends creating a bag that you or a loved one can grab in an instant. Your “go bag” could include your legal documents, a list of medications, recent test results, and a supply of emergency medications and/or devices. Keep this bag somewhere in your house so that you and your family members will be able to access it with ease. 

Keep a source of glucose close-by 

If you’re diabetic, it’s vital to keep a quick-acting source of glucose with you such as juice or candy, in case you experience a drop in your blood sugar. Harvard Health suggests carrying a blood glucose meter at all times so you can check your blood sugar levels and avoid medical emergencies. 

Know your numbers 

As a heart failure patient, it’s important that you know what your typical blood pressure (BP), heart rate, etc. are. For example, it may be typical for you to have a BP reading of 80/50, but this may be treated in error as low in a medical emergency, or conversely, a reading of 120/80 may be considered normal when in fact for your situation it may require investigation. Apps such as Heart Failure Storylines let you record and monitor your vitals on your smartphone.

“As it stands, heart failure is a leading cause of inpatient hospitalizations, with newly diagnosed patients spending over 26 days of hospital resources in their first year of treatment,” according to the Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research. Why not make emergency preparedness a New Year’s resolution? — it’s definitely worthwhile.

IF YOU’RE LIVING WITH HEART FAILURE, OR SOMEONE YOU LOVE HAS THIS CHRONIC ILLNESS, CLICK HERE TO VISIT OUR CLOSED FACEBOOK SUPPORT GROUP AND JOIN THE CONVERSATION.