Support must return for 'lifesaving' heart attack rehab after pandemic, charity says

A former fitness instructor who suffered a heart attack during lockdown has spoken about the difficulties of recovering from such a life-changing event during enforced isolation.

Tony McGuire

Tony McGuire, 54, urged others in the same position to seek help, while the British Heart Foundation said vital services must be reinstated as restrictions ease in order to save lives.

Mr McGuire, from Falkirk, was out for a walk in April when he felt a “weight on his chest”, and began to feel tired and unable to continue the walk.

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The former weight-lifter and football player decided to turn around and go back home, a decision which he thinks may have saved his life.

Tony McGuire

He was taken to hospital, and was shocked when doctors diagnosed his symptoms as a heart attack.

As his condition was stable and the first wave of Covid-19 was at its height, he was discharged over the phone, without having been to a specialist cardiac unit.

While he has no complaint over the treatment, the pandemic restrictions left Mr McGuire feeling isolated and worried about the next steps.

“Initially I was a wee bit anxious, because you can’t go to the hospital, you can’t see anyone, you feel as if you’re on your own,” he said.

Mr McGuire had been very physically active all his life, and was frustrated by the new constraints of his condition.

He was able to find support in the charity’s Cardiac Rehab at Home programme, a series of online resources for recovery after heart attack launched during the pandemic, including meal plans and exercise videos.

The plan gave Mr McGuire the “confidence” to return to fitness training and build back his strength over the summer.

He found the programme vital to his support and recovery, but the BHF warned that further services must be resumed when lockdown is eased.

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“There is no doubt the Covid-19 pandemic has created staff shortages and restrictions on health services and so programmes have had to adapt by offering alternative assistance and online classes and support,” said Richard Forsyth, Health Systems Insight Manager at BHF Scotland.

“Our BHF Cardiac Rehabilitation at Home programme, which we fast-tracked when the pandemic first hit last Spring, is one way we have been working with the clinical community to support patients. The resources on our BHF website are proving really popular.

“However while this helps make cardiac rehab more accessible, it is important to remember that these tools are not designed to replace actual cardiac rehab led by health professionals.

“Evidence shows that such programmes can reduce the risk of further cardiac events and re-admission to hospital. As we emerge from the pandemic in the months ahead, we must work to restore cardiac rehab services in full to help save and improve lives.”

Mr Forsyth added: “Someone’s need for aftercare following an event as life-changing as a heart attack does not go away because we are in a global pandemic. With most of Scotland under lockdown restrictions once again, we must continue to deliver programmes to aid patients’ recovery.”

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