"I feel so lucky to be alive and so thankful"
Barbara Hardy’s friends and family supported her after a heart attack. In turn, supporting others helped Barbara carry on. Sarah Brealey hears her story.
Barbara Hardy counts her blessings every day. She’s seen her five grandchildren grow up, and the birth of her first great-grandchild six months ago brought excitement and joy.
She feels she’s had 17 extra years of life since her heart attack. “I feel so lucky to be alive and so thankful,” she says.
We still keep in touch all the time... We have so many blessings
Barbara was 63 and had recently retired from her job as a primary school teacher when she had her heart attack. She didn’t realise what had happened, so was shocked by the news, and even more so upon learning she’d need a new aortic valve and bypass surgery.
At first, she was reluctant to have surgery. “I couldn’t get myself convinced that I could possibly need an operation like that,” she says. “So for three years, I was just having check-ups every six months. In the end, I realised I had to have the operation if I was to have any life to live.”
The operation, in 2002, went well and Barbara returned home a week later. Physically, she went “from strength to strength”, although psychologically it was more challenging. “Things like this absolutely take all your confidence,” says Barbara. “To get your confidence back again isn’t easy. You have to learn to do everything again.”
Vital support from family and friends
“I have had the support of my family and friends,” says Barbara, now 79. “You need that support, definitely.”
Barbara, from Nottinghamshire, is close to her whole family. Her daughter Sarah lives just around the corner. “My daughter has been amazing, as have my son Peter, my son-in-law and daughter-in-law, and my five grandchildren,” she says.
“Although they are scattered over the country, we still keep in touch all the time. They are wonderful to us. We have so many blessings, we really have.”
Last September, Barbara and her husband, John, were thrilled to become great-grandparents when baby Flynn was born. John has also been a great support. “He has never let me feel I couldn’t do anything that I wanted to do,” she says. “I had always had a busy life and he wouldn’t let me give up on anything.”
Barbara is very active in her community, and she and John run a toddler group at their church, Nuthall Methodist. Barbara’s daughter Sarah originally set up the group with family friends Gail and Sandra when they had young children. After they went back to work, Barbara and John took over.
When Barbara was in hospital for heart surgery, the couple thought they would have to temporarily close the toddler group, but parents from the group stepped in to help John run it.
In 2014, Barbara and John were surprised and delighted to be awarded a Certificate for Service to the Community by Nuthall Parish Council.
At church, Barbara is president of the women’s fellowship, a worship leader and cradle secretary. “That means I help with christenings,” she explains. “The church, my faith and prayer are very important to me.
“I became a worship leader after I had the heart attack and before the surgery… I was determined to carry on with my life.”
Working as a BHF fundraising volunteer
Barbara has also been a fundraising volunteer for the BHF for more than 10 years. “I go into schools and talk to children, which is so rewarding,” she says. “I also love fundraising. In my family, when we have events or parties we use them as a way to raise funds for the BHF.
I go into schools and talk to children, which is so rewarding
“I do fundraising with the toddlers; every February they all come in wearing red. We do what we can for the BHF because the research it funds is so important. Helena, the local BHF fundraising manager, and I have become very good friends. She trusts me and I trust her.”
Barbara says she follows all the health advice she’s been given and this has helped her keep well since her heart surgery. She stays active through gardening, housework and walking – she and her husband prefer to take public transport, which involves extra walking, rather than driving. “My motto is ‘Eat healthily, keep to a healthy weight, exercise and be fit’,” she says.
Barbara wants others to know there is life after heart surgery. “Although surgery is a very frightening thought, you will be better at the end of it and will be able to live life more fully,” she explains.
“It gives you your life back. I want people to know that you can be made better; you can get up again.”
There’s lots of evidence that volunteering is good for your health and wellbeing. If you’re interested in volunteering for the BHF, whether it’s as a schools fundraising volunteer, like Barbara, or helping out in one of our many shops, visit how to volunteer for the BHF or call 0300 330 3322.
Studies have linked gratitude to psychological and even physical health. In a study of early-stage heart failure patients, those who felt more gratitude had better outcomes, including mood, sleep quality and heart function. Keeping a diary of things you are grateful for is one suggestion from researchers. Barbara says: “I am thankful every day.”
Listen to your doctors
“Take all the advice from the medical people. Accept what is happening, even though that is hard to do. It took me several years.”
“Don’t be overweight and do what exercise you can to keep yourself fit,” says Barbara. “It is up to you to make sure you eat healthily.”