A champion for community heart health

After being crowned BHF Champion at the BHF Alliance awards last year, health and fitness manager Megan Stephenson speaks about her community work and volunteering efforts to help heart patients in Cumbria.

5 January 2018, by Siobhan Chan

Megan Stephenson in work uniform

Megan Stephenson (née Lishman) won the prestigious title of BHF Champion at the BHF Alliance awards in June 2017 for her dedication to improving the heart health of her community.

The health and fitness manager from Workington, Cumbria, has set up GP referral schemes to local leisure centres, runs cardiac rehabilitation services and organises a social group for people with heart problems.

She won the award for her bravery, compassion and drive in her work and volunteering – and her commitment to the community has only strengthened since.

A family connection

Megan’s interest in heart health began aged 10, when her father was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. She quickly became the family expert on the subject and this passion has carried over into her professional life.

She works with local hospitals and GPs to run cardiac rehabilitation services in gyms across Cumbria. Megan strongly believes in tailoring cardiac rehabilitation sessions to individual needs. “We work with patients and come up with a plan for their recovery together,” she says. “We look after them all the way through – and when their course is over, they continue to come in because know they can come to us about anything.”

Megan has set up a social group for over-55s that meets every week and allows members to take part in exercise such as walking and badminton, attend relaxation sessions or just gather as a group for a cup of tea. Megan believes that having this pathway following cardiac rehabilitation is crucial for making patients feel supported.

“People can experience depression after a heart event,” she says. “This social group gives them a reason to leave the house in the morning, which can make all the difference.”

New challenges

Megan Stephenson taking person's blood pressure“Winning the BHF Champion award has got me local recognition, and it was lovely to gain praise for my hard work,” Megan says. “Customers, locals and patients are more keen to discuss heart health with me.”

Megan’s dedication to her community doesn’t stop there – she plans to add another string to her bow by training to become a community first responder (CFR).  

CFRs are volunteers who are trained and dispatched by local NHS ambulance services to provide vital first aid when someone is having a cardiac arrest, or for other medical emergencies such as breathing difficulties or a seizure.

They are sometimes first on the scene after the emergency services have been called and can be an essential second pair of hands to assist paramedics. “It’s a really in-depth course and the training will be quite comprehensive,” she says.

“Volunteering to be a CFR will mean I can help out ambulance services, which are really overstretched at the moment, and will be on hand to support people in the local area who need it the most.”

The 2018 BHF Alliance Awards are now open for nominations. Find out more about the awards and enter today.