A Christmas Message from Croí CEO, Neil Johnson

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I would like to take this opportunity to convey our sincere thanks to all those who supported us through this past year. It has been a very difficult year for everyone, not least those living with or affected by cardiovascular diseases (heart, stroke, diabetes & obesity). The Covid-19 pandemic has taken its toll in so many ways, it’s almost impossible to comprehend just how things have changed so quickly.

Like all charities, this year Croí faced unprecedented challenges at a time when it was most needed by those it supports. All face-to-face activity across our health programmes, patient and carer supports, research, education and fundraising events came to an abrupt halt in March. Literally overnight, our Heart & Stroke Centre in Newcastle became an empty shell, so in support of the national emergency we offered it to the HSE for use as a central contact tracing centre. Then our health team swung into action and pivoted as many of our health programmes and patient supports as possible to online ‘virtual’ delivery. In fact, they managed to very quickly create and deliver very effective programmes to high-risk groups and even launched a first-in-Ireland approach to services like cardiac rehabilitation. Additionally, despite all the challenges, we are glad to now be providing ‘virtual’ delivery of exercise classes, lifestyle change programmes, stroke support meetings and much more.

The biggest impact of Covid-19 globally has been on those living with known cardiovascular conditions. In the early days of the pandemic, extremely high levels of fear, anxiety, loneliness and isolation was experienced by those for whom access to primary and secondary care was severely interrupted; hospital appointments and procedures were postponed or cancelled and visits to those in hospital or care homes was denied. In parallel, many people experienced heart and stroke events but due to their fears of contracting the virus they delayed or even avoided seeking medical attention with resulting worse outcomes. Against this background we experienced a huge jump in the number of calls we were receiving from patients and family members so we launched a free support service, Heartlink West, which has now supported thousands of people across the West via daily telephone, online and virtual consultations. This new service allows people living with heart disease and stroke, or those concerned about their heart health, to contact Croí and connect with our multidisciplinary health team of nurses, dietitians, physiotherapists and exercise specialists. While the Heartlink West service will close for a short period over the Christmas holidays, it will open again on January 6th. (Tel 091-544310 or www.croi.ie)

Despite all the challenges and uncertainties faced by everyone over the past year, we are inspired and heartened by the many who continued to contribute financially at a time when they themselves were struggling. We couldn’t survive without this partnership and we wish to convey our deep appreciation and gratitude to all our donors, volunteers, corporate and business supporters who continued to give this year despite their own very difficult circumstances. We got through 2020 thanks to huge public support and a highly dedicated and committed staff, voluntary board of directors and a large team of volunteers. We don’t take this support for granted and we realise how fortunate we are to have this. We are preparing now for 2021 and we are committed to continuing to make a difference to the lives of those living with or affected by heart disease and stroke.

 

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy and peaceful Christmas and the very best for the new year.

Many thanks,

 

Neil Johnson,
Chief Executive, Croí

Embracing innovation and the power of positive ageing

By Neil Johnson, Chief Executive of Croí, the West of Ireland Cardiac & Stroke Foundation and the National Institute for Preventive Cardiology

In September, I chaired a European Parliament roundtable with MEPs and five other cardiac patient organisations on Heart Valve Disease and the Power of Positive Ageing.

Our message was simple – heart valve disease is a barrier to active and healthy ageing: early detection, diagnosis and treatment with innovative medical technologies enables positive ageing. Equal access to these technologies was at the core of our discussion.

Heart valve disease is a common and blameless disease of ageing. Around 13% of people aged over-75 have some form of the disease. It is both life-limiting and potentially life-threatening; 50% of people with severe aortic stenosis, the most common form of the disease, will die within 2 years if not appropriately treated.

Yet, it does not have to be like this. Surgical heart valve repair or replacement are proven treatments and we are now living through a period of exciting and impressive advances in treating the disease with minimally invasive and keyhole techniques.

Repairing or replacing a diseased valve can, in effect, cure the condition. Blood will once again flow through the heart the way in which nature designed it and patients can anticipate a better and longer quality of life.

This is where the Power of Positive Ageing comes in. The ageing demographics of Europe are frequently viewed as a negative thing, whereas we believe and know that healthy older people contribute significantly and in very positive ways to our families, communities and economies.

After all, we know that many people over the age of 65 care for their partners or look after grandchildren so that their own children can go to work.  In the UK, Age UK estimates that this care is worth £15bn to the country’s economy.

Here in Ireland, our senior population are literally running our communities by volunteering.  The Healthy and Positive Ageing Initiative (HAPAI) announced recently that 12% of over-70s volunteer in their communities weekly, while a further 19% volunteer at least monthly.  Similarly, in France 36% of those over 65 volunteer in an association according to a report from Bénévolat.

Economically, older people actually play a key role. According to Spain’s Centre for Sociological Research (CIS), 37.7% of people believe that one of the greatest contributions of grandparents to Spanish society is to help their families ’economically’, while over 25% of people recognize and highlight their role in ’keeping the family together’

For me, it is self-evident that keeping our elderly population in good heart health with innovative medical technology is one clear solution to the challenges we face across Europe. Ensuring that patients have access to these technologies is central to this solution, but unfortunately, access varies widely across Europe. For example, in Denmark, Austria and Switzerland, you are much more likely to be treated with innovative technologies than in my own country.

This is why a European alliance of heart patient organisations have called for action from European healthcare systems to ensure that patients have equal access to effective heart valve disease treatment wherever they live.  Achieving this will allow us all to embrace the benefits of the Power of Positive Ageing.

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Originally posted by MedTech Europe on October 11, 2018.