Community Health News grabs five minutes with Annette Tremlin, founder of ‘Heart Buddies’, a peer support group for people diagnosed with heart failure.
In 2008, I picked up a virus in Indonesia which badly damaged my heart. Initially I was told it was asthma, but we later found I’d had myocarditis – an inflammation of the heart muscle.
Two years – and many tests – later I was diagnosed with stage four dilated cardiomyopathy. The virus had caused the walls of my heart to become stretched and thin, which meant that my heart couldn’t pump blood around my body as effectively.
Getting a diagnosis of heart failure is shocking. I went from being fit and healthy to suddenly dealing with huge life changes: giving up work; stopping all the things I was used to doing; getting used to all the new medication; and managing the worries of my family.
I was breathless all the time. Walking was a challenge and I put on a lot of weight. It was at my first appointment with the specialist and my heart failure nurse, Sue, that we talked about treatment options – including a heart transplant.
Heart Buddies was formed three years ago because there was no support group for people in Bristol with heart failure. I worked with other heart failure patients Mike and Keith, and Bristol Community Health’s Heart Failure Service and Patient and Public Empowerment Team, to change that. Now we’ve got 18 members who come to our monthly meetings in Fishponds. But we want more people to come along because we know the difference it makes.
We talk about anything over a cup of coffee. It’s very informal: we chat about new medications or technology, and share tips and laughs about living with the challenges of heart failure.
We often have experts along from the Heart Failure Service to tell us about physiotherapy, nutrition and medication – anything that helps us manage our condition. One of the Heart Failure Service nurses often comes along to the group and feeds back to the service, so we become involved in making service improvements too.
There is something special about being supported by someone who is going through it too. Sometimes medication makes you feel rotten, even though you know it’s helping you. It’s so comforting to hear other people say: “I feel exactly the same.”
I had a heart transplant in 2015 and now I feel fit and healthy. I’ve been very lucky. It took a year for my body to recover from the surgery and to get used to medication though. I don’t know how I would have got through it all without my Heart Buddies.
If I had to sum up the group in three words, I’d say it’s beneficial, inspirational and supportive. It’s become a great place to share experiences and gain support from those who understand.
Forming the group has given me the encouragement to keep going. Best of all, it’s shown me I’m not alone.
Get in touch with Heart Buddies
The group meets between 11am-1pm on the first Wednesday of every month at Fishponds Health Centre, BS16 3TD. This group is for anyone with any type of heart problems.
If you want to join Heart Buddies in Fishponds or set up your own Heart Buddies group in your local area, please contact Annette on firstname.lastname@example.org
Heart Buddies was launched by Bristol Community Health’s Heart Failure Service as part of its ten-year anniversary celebrations in 2014. To find out more about our Heart Failure service, visit briscomhealth.org.uk/our-services/heart-failure